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 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 US 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 US embassies across the Middle East.
A federal law enforcement official said on Thursday that authorities had connected Nakoula to a man using the pseudonym of Sam Bacile who said earlier he was the writer and director of the film.
Violent protests set off by the film in Libya played a role in mob attacks in Benghazi that killed US Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other American officials. US Embassy gates in Cairo were breached by protesters and demonstrations against American missions spread to Yemen on Thursday and on Friday to several other countries.
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 ATMs.
While it was unclear what might have provoked authorities’ interest, the filmmaker’s use of a false identity and his access to the Internet through computers could be at issue, according to specialists in cyber law and the federal probation system.
Nakoula, who said he was logistics manager for the film, was under requirements to provide authorities with records of all his bank and business accounts.
The probation order authorized in June 2010 warned Nakoula against using false identities. Nakoula was told not to ‘‘use, for any purpose or in any manner, any name other than his/her true legal name or names without the prior written approval of the Probation Officer.’’
Federal prosecutors had charged that Nakoula used multiple false identities in creating his fraudulent accounts. Several, Nicola Bacily and Erwin Salameh, were similar to the Sam Bacile pseudonym used to set up the YouTube account for the anti-Islamic film. Other pseudonyms used in the accounts ranged from Ahmed Hamdy to P.J. Tobacco.
Nakoula was also told he could not have any access to the Internet ‘‘without the prior approval of the probation officer.’’ Nakoula was ordered to detail any online devices and cellphones to authorities and was told his devices would be monitored and subject to searches.
Jennifer Granick, a criminal defense lawyer who specializes in online crimes, said authorities might not have been aware of Nakoula’s online activity even if monitoring devices were placed on his computers. ‘‘That may be very hard for a probation officer to catch ahead of time.’’