LOS ANGELES – The man who identified himself as the filmmaker behind the anti-Islam film “The Innocence of Muslims” may have used a pseudonym and spent time in federal prison. Meanwhile several actors in the movie say they were duped, and are now distancing themselves from the film that was cited as a spark to the violence in Libya that resulted in the murder of the United States’ ambassador to that country.
Initial reports stated an Israeli-born producer who identified himself as Sam Bacile had gone into hiding following the violence in Libya. FoxNews.com’s research on public and private databases, business filings, and people finding services came up empty on that name. Israeli authorities also claim to have no records of him being a citizen, although he said in interviews to be both a citizen of America and Israel.
The Associated Press first reported that they spoke with Bacile via phone as he was remaining incognito in an undisclosed location following the violence in Libya. “Bacile” said that he was sorry for the death of the U.S Ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens, and blamed his death on the “no good” security systems in place at the embassies.
When Bacile’s legitimacy began to be questioned, the AP traced the phone number they had called to Nakoula Basseley Nakoula. Nakoula, 55, a Coptic Christian, said he was the manager of the company that produced the anti-Muslim movie, but denied that he had posed as Bacile. However, other connections to the Bacile persona have been unearthed.
Nakoula has frequently used alias names in the past, including Erwin Salameh and Nicola “Bacily,” among others. In 2010, he pleaded no contest to federal band fraud charges in California and was ordered to pay over $790,000 in restitution, sentenced to 21 months in federal prison and ordered not to use computers or the internet for five years. Thus, hosting a “Sam Bacile” YouTube channel may be deemed a violation of his probation.
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An attorney for Nakoula, listed as James Henderson Sr., did not respond to FoxNews.com's request for comment. On his legal website, the Santa Monica-based lawyer is described as a specialist in “white collar criminal defense and federal criminal violations.”
Pastor Terry Jones of Gainesville, Fla., who burned Qurans on the ninth anniversary of 9/11, said he spoke with the movie's director on the phone Wednesday. He said he has not met the filmmaker in person, but the man contacted him a few weeks ago about promoting the movie.
"I have not met him. Sam Bacile, that is not his real name," Jones said. "I just talked to him on the phone. He is definitely in hiding and does not reveal his identity. He was quite honestly fairly shook up concerning the events and what is happening. A lot of people are not supporting him."
“Bacile” also claimed in his initial interview with the AP that “The Innocence of Muslims” was shown to a mostly empty theater in Hollywood earlier this year, which has since been pinpointed as L.A’s Vine Theater. A worker at the theater told FoxNews.com:“The film we screened was titled ‘The Innocence of Bin Laden’,” adding that the film was in English without any subtitles or Arabic. The worker said it was a “small viewing.”
The L.A Times reported it was an “earlier version” of the movie, and fewer than ten seats in the theater were filled.
Another of the film’s promoters, Steve Klein, told The Atlantic that he did not know Steve Bacile’s “real name,” and that they only met once and spoke for about an hour.
“He’s not Israeli… His name is a pseudonym,” Klein told the magazine. “All these Middle Eastern folks I work with have pseudonyms. I doubt he’s Jewish. I would suspect this is a disinformation campaign.”
Klein is a 62-year-old Vietnam Veteran who resides in rural California and heads up a group called Concerned Citizens for the First Amendment, which is on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s list of California Active Anti-Muslim Groups. In 1977 he founded Klein founded Courageous Christians United, which has reportedly staged protests outside mosques and abortion clinics.
Multiple calls to Klein’s office on Wednesday went unanswered before we were told that Klein was “booked up all day.”
Regardless of the film’s heritage, its very legitimacy as a motion picture is also in question.
The supposedly two-hour feature is said to have cost $5 million to make, with “mom and pop” donations coming in from across the world, although many are scratching their heads with regards to how the clearly unprofessional, no-name and no production value film – as projected by the 13-minute trailer – could possibly have cost that much.
“There is absolutely no way that film could have cost five million,” one independent film producer told FoxNews.com. “More likely, five dollars… It looks like a hoax.”
A representative for the California Film Commission said that no filming permits were given to Bacile or Klein, or anything related to the film’s title. While it seems the film may have been shot in large part via green screen, filming in any public place requires a permit, and it is hard to imagine that the 45-person crew – along with 60 actors as “Bacile” told the press – could have gone completely unnoticed over the three-month period. Neither the film, nor its supposed filmmaker, has a presence on leading film database IMDB. And nobody in the film industry we talked to had any knowledge of it, nor did they recognize any of the actors in it.
On Wednesday, YouTube blocked access to the contentious film trailer in Libya and Egypt, but has elected to leave the video on its website.
"We work hard to create a community everyone can enjoy and which also enables people to express different opinions. This can be a challenge because what's OK in one country can be offensive elsewhere. This video -- which is widely available on the Web -- is clearly within our guidelines and so will stay on YouTube,” a rep for the Google-owned website told us. “However, given the very difficult situation in Libya and Egypt we have temporarily restricted access in both countries. Our hearts are with the families of the people murdered in yesterday's attack in Libya".
In a statement issued to multiple outlets from the film’s cast and crew, they said were “shocked by the drastic re-writes of the script and lies that were told to all involved.” No specific representative was named in the statement, however. Most of the dialogue that relates to Islam or religion in the trailer looks like it was overdubbed in post-production, with many suggesting that the dialogue was translated with words something completely different to lines delivered.
One of the film’s actors, Cindy Lee Garcia, 43, from Bakersfield, Calif., who had a small role as a woman who’s daughter is given to Muhammad to marry, said in multiple interviews that she had no idea she was involved in such an offensive movie, and that was simply given a script entitled “Desert Warriors.” Garcia also said that her lines were changed to be far more inflammatory in post-production.
Another unnamed actress reportedly claimed that the original script did not contain a Prophet Muhammad character, but rather a man named “George,” and several actors reportedly complained that their lines were altered.
The apparent casting call for the “Desert Warriors” film, which was posted on Craigslist last July, sought both SAG and non-SAG actors of numerous ages, and described itself to be a “historical desert drama set in Middle East” which would shoot in Los Angeles for 18 days, including studio and back lot locations. The notice also claimed the director was “Alan Roberts.” We reached out to the only director-credited Alan Roberts listed on IMDB – who last directed the thriller “Save Me” in 1994, and produced the low-budget “Street Poet” in 2010, but were unable to reach him via email and were told the phone number listed on IMDB was wrong.
The casting notice also appeared on the acting website Backstage.com and identified DW Productions as the company behind the movie. We reached out to several companies with this name, but no avail.
SAG/AFTRA told FoxNews.com that it was not one of their films, thus they have no way of tracking it or determining who attended the castings or participated in the production.
Danielle Jones-Wesley contributed to this report.
Hollie McKay has been a FoxNews.com staff reporter since 2007. She has reported extensively from the Middle East on the rise and fall of terrorist groups such as ISIS in Iraq. Follow her on twitter at @holliesmckay