Paul Ceglia, who has been a fugitive for three years after being charged with trying to defraud Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, has been arrested in Ecuador, US authorities said Thursday.
Ceglia, a wood pellet salesman in upstate New York, went missing in March 2015 with his family after cutting off an electronic monitoring bracelet from his ankle. At the time of his disappearance, Ceglia was awaiting trial in New York federal court on charges of mail fraud and wire fraud related to his alleged attempt to extort billions of dollars from Facebook and Zuckerberg.
In a letter to US District Court Judge Vernon Broderick, prosecutors said Ceglia was arrested Thursday morning in Ecuador and is expected to appear in a Quito courtroom Friday. Prosecutors said they’ll update the court as they learn more about Ceglia’s extradition proceedings.
Ceglia, 45, filed a lawsuit against Zuckerberg in 2010, claiming that he and Zuckerberg, then a student at Harvard University, signed a contract in April 2003 that promised Ceglia a 50 percent stake in the fledgling web venture that was to become Facebook.
Ceglia included a two-page contract and emails between him and Zuckerberg as evidence of the agreement. After a forensic examination of the evidence, authorities said Ceglia simply falsified the first page of the contract and attached it to a second page containing both parties’ signatures.
Ceglia’s lawsuit against Zuckerberg was dismissed in 2014 after a judge said he found clear evidence that the 2003 contract submitted in the claim was a ‘recently created fabrication.’
Authorities also say Ceglia fabricated the emails between the two.
Robert Ross Fogg, a lawyer for Ceglia in the criminal case, said in an email Thursday he was ‘surprised’ by the arrest but also ‘relieved’ that Ceglia was arrested without incident. He also said he looks forward to resuming his work on Ceglia’s defense.
Ceglia, who was charged with fraud in 2012, faces 20 years in prison if convicted of the original charges. The punishment for unlawful flight to avoid prosecution is a fine and/or up to five years in prison.
Facebook didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
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