SALT LAKE CITY — The strange tale of a Utah Marine corporal charged with desertion after allegedly faking his own kidnapping in Iraq may be told in a television movie after all, although it may not have input from Wassef Ali Hassoun, or his family.
Los Angeles publicist Michael Sands worked with the family in 2005 on a $1 million book and movie deal to clear Hassoun's name. The deals fell apart after the family balked at signing a contract.
Sands told The Associated Press he now plans to tell the story on his own.
"The Deserter" is a television movie by Sands and retired FBI agent Bob Hamer. It chronicles the Hassoun story and Sands' own role trying to help the family.
"We could help the family still, but we're going ahead," Sands said Thursday. "This is a great compelling story about an American, who created a hoax and a story about how people are tempted."
Mohamad Hassoun, one of Wassef Ali Hassoun's brothers who worked closely with Sands in 2005, declined comment on the publicist's plans when contacted at his home in West Jordan, Utah by the AP on Wednesday.
Wassef Ali Hassoun, now 31, went missing twice from the military — first in June 2004 in the purported kidnapping at the hands of Islamic extremists, and again in January 2005, when he failed to return to Camp Lejeune, N.C., after a visit to Utah to see relatives.
He was charged twice with desertion along with loss of government property, theft of a military firearm for allegedly leaving camp with a 9 mm service pistol, and theft of a Humvee.
Officially, his whereabouts remain unknown, although Sands said Hassoun's brother, Sami Hassoun, told him on the phone recently that his brother was in Lebanon.
Sands said he thought Wassef Ali Hassoun's story was "a hoax from the beginning" but still worked to help the family tell their side and manage the crush of media attention that surrounded the Marine's return to the U.S. in 2004.
Attempts to broker a book and movie deal in 2005 fizzled when Mohamad Hassoun refused to sign a contract, Sands said. E-mails provided to the AP show Mohamad Hassoun maintained a relationship with Sands over the past five years, at one point asking whether Sands could use his relationships with the military to help the elder Hassoun gain security clearances for a job.
Sands, who runs Sands Digital Media, is a longtime defense contractor with contacts inside the Pentagon, CIA, FBI and Navy intelligence and it was a Marine public affairs officer that first introduced him to the Hassouns.
Then last month Sami Hassoun revived interest in the project, contacting Sands by e-mail Weeks into new negotiations, Sami Hassoun backed away when Sands pressed for details about Wassef Ali Hassoun's purported kidnapping.
"I always thought this story would come back around again," a frustrated Sands said. "I've worked long and hard for (the Hassoun's) and they basically led me astray."
Beverly Hills talent agent Jeff Fisher confirmed that he's helping Sands and Hamer, a former Marine who is now an author, find backing for the movie. It may also spur the production of a spinoff television showed based on Sands and his unique career blending his work for the military with the entertainment and media, which the three also have in the works.
Fisher said there is plenty of interest in the unusual story of a Marine who goes missing, turns up and then disappears again.
"It makes sense to tell the story and try to answer the question, what is going on there?" Fisher said. "What makes it really interesting is that we don't even know how it ends."
A warrant issued in 2005 for Hassoun, who holds both U.S. and Lebanese citizenship, by the 4th Marine Expeditionary Brigade, II Marine Expeditionary Force, at Camp Lejeune remains active, said Maj. Carl Redding, a spokesman for the Marines. If he were to return to U.S. soil, Hassoun would be arrested and prosecuted.
Sands believes Wassef Ali Hassoun will eventually be caught.
"Somebody knows where he is and is going to want their 15 minutes of fame," said Sands.