LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A California man linked to an anti-Islam film that stoked violent protests in the Muslim world denied on Wednesday that he had violated his probation on a bank fraud conviction, and he was sent back to jail until his case can be heard on its merits.
The man, who has been known publicly as Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, denied under oath in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles that he committed eight probation violations, including lying to officials over the scope his role in the film and using aliases.
If he is found to have violated the terms of his supervised release from prison, the Egyptian-born Coptic Christian man whose legal name is Mark Basseley Youssef could be sent back to prison for two years.
A crudely made 13-minute video attributed to Youssef, 55, was made in California and circulated online under several titles including “Innocence of Muslims.” The film portrays the Prophet Mohammad as a fool and sexual deviant.
It touched off a torrent of anti-American unrest in Arab and Muslim countries. That violence coincided with a separate attack on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi that killed four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya.
As outrage against the film mounted, U.S. authorities said they were not investigating the film itself. Youssef was taken into custody last month over the probation issues and has been held without bond at a Los Angeles federal detention center.
Youssef, wearing white jail garb, was escorted into court on Wednesday by five U.S. marshals, his hands shackled in front of him and a pair of reading glasses perched on his head.
Security was tight for the hearing, which was packed with members of the media. Marshals confiscated the cell phones of reporters before they entered the courtroom.
Prosecutors said Youssef violated the terms of his release by using aliases, fraudulently obtaining a California driver’s license under another name and lying to probation officers by falsely claiming his only involvement with the anti-Islam film was as a script writer.
As U.S. District Judge Cristina Snyder read the eight accusations against him, Youssef replied to each one with the word: “Deny.” An evidentiary hearing was set for November 9.
Legal experts say Youssef’s attorneys could argue that the terms of his release in the 2010 bank fraud conviction did not apply directly to his recent activities, in which people associated with the film have said he misrepresented himself.
“It will be interesting to see what the judge does and what the reaction is around the world,” Loyola Law School professor Stan Goldman said. “It’s not exactly like an armed robber on probation, getting caught with an automatic weapon in his possession. It’s a little more technical.”
Youssef’s lawyer Steve Seiden, who had previously expressed concerns about his client’s safety in jail, also asked the court to move Youssef out of protective custody and into the jail’s general population. Snyder said she wanted to hear from Bureau of Prisons officials before taking a decision.
The defendant, who had worked in the gas station industry and most recently lived in a suburb of Los Angeles, declared at the outset of his last hearing that he had changed his name to Mark Basseley Youssef in 2002.
The probation issues were the latest of Youssef’s legal woes. An actress who says she was duped into appearing in the anti-Islam film has sued him over the matter, identifying him as the film’s producer. Cindy Lee Garcia also named YouTube and its parent company Google Inc as defendants in the case.
Google has refused to remove the film from YouTube, despite pressure from the White House and others to take it down, though the company has blocked the trailer in Egypt, Libya and other Muslim countries.
Additional reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Cynthia Johnston, Lisa Shumaker and Cynthia Osterman