WASHINGTON — Federal probation officials are investigating the activities of a southern California filmmaker convicted of financial crimes who has been linked to an anti-Islamic movie inflaming protests across the Middle East, a spokesman for the U.S. federal court system said Friday.
The probation department in California's central district is reviewing the case of Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, 55, who was previously convicted on bank fraud charges and was banned from using computers or the Internet as part of his sentence. The review is aimed at learning whether Nakoula violated the terms of his five-year probation.
Karen Redmond, a spokeswoman for the administrative office of the U.S. courts, confirmed Friday the review is under way. If the probation department determines Nakoula violated terms of his release, a judge could send him back to prison.
Federal authorities have identified Nakoula, a self-described Coptic Christian, as the key figure behind Innocence of Muslims, a film denigrating Islam and the prophet Mohammed that ignited mob violence against U.S. embassies across the Middle East. A federal law enforcement official told the Associated Press on Thursday that authorities had connected Nakoula to a man using the pseudonym of Sam Bacile who claimed earlier to be writer and director of the film.
Nakoula pleaded no contest in 2010 to federal bank fraud charges in California and was ordered to pay more than $790,000 in restitution. He was also sentenced to 21 months in federal prison and was ordered not to use computers or the Internet for five years without approval from his probation officer.
It could be difficult to establish a probation violation case against Nakoula. In the federal court system, the conditions of supervised release are geared toward the offense for which a defendant was found guilty and imprisoned.
In Nakoula's case, the offense was bank fraud. His no contest plea was to charges of setting up fraudulent bank accounts using stolen identities and Social Security numbers, depositing checks from those accounts into other phony accounts and then withdrawing the illicit funds from ATM machines.
The filmmaker's use of a false identity and his access to the Internet through computers could be at issue, according to experts in cyber law and the federal probation system. Nakoula, who told the Associated Press that he was logistics manager for the film, was under requirements to provide authorities with records of all his bank and business accounts.