Mark Basseley Youssef, a Southern California man central in the making of controversial anti-Islam film “Innocence of Muslims,” was sentenced Wednesday to a year in prison with four years of supervised release.
Youssef, 55, admitted in court Wednesday that he’d used aliases without permission, possessed a fraudulent California driver’s license, and lied to probation officers about using different names.
“This is not a defendant we want out there using other forms of his name,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Dugdale.
Federal prosecutors agreed to drop four other allegations of probation violations against Youssef because he admitted to the others.
Although none of the allegations Youssef admitted to involved the controversial film, the topic did surface in court. Dugdale said Youssef has been dishonest with probation officers and the people he worked with on the film.
“His deception caused real harm,” Dugdale said.
He added that the people who got involved with the film told the probation office that they have received death threats and fear their careers are ruined. Dugdale said Yousseff deceived the actors by hiding his true identity and that he “made choices for other people” when he dubbed the dialogue in the film in post-production.
Youssef’s attorney defended his client saying that the actors signed releases and like with any movie, filmmakers have the right to change dialogues and movie titles.
The probation hearing was set to determine whether Youssef had violated his probation from a 2010 bank fraud conviction. The defense attorney said he was upset that the prosecutors brought up the “Innocence of Muslims” film.
“The government used these proceedings to chill my client’s First Amendment rights,” said defense attorney Steven Seiden.
“They knew in 2009 he had this name Mark Basseley Youssef and did nothing to further investigate it and I think it was the federal probation department’s obligation to do so at that time,” Seiden said.
Seiden said his client has admitted in the past to being the scriptwriter - and maybe a cultural consultant - on the film.
Youssef’s defense asked for home detention but U.S. District Judge Christina Synder said a one-year prison sentence was appropriate for his “laundry list” of deception. He’s also subject to four years of supervised release after his prison sentence.
Seiden said his client has not been able to see his children; They’ve been denied entrance to the detention center where he is being held. He said Youssef’s son attended the sentencing hearing.
The charges stemmed from allegations that he violated probation for unrelated crimes by using aliases while making “Innocence of Muslims,” a film which sparked anger across the Middle East. He allegedly lied to probation officers about using the name Sam Bacile and other variations without prior permission, as well as having a California driver’s license using the name “Nakoula Basseley Nakoula” without his probation officer’s permission.
The judge found that Yousseff had violated his probation because he had admitted to some of the allegations.
Youssef faced up to two years in federal prison, which is an unusually lengthy sentence for probation violations. Free speech advocates criticized the arrest, saying it was due to the film rather than the actual probation violation.
This story has been updated.