The Facebook ownership suit took on yet another bizarre twist Tuesday, when allegations of threats and improper influence surfaced in the 2-year-old civil case.
Paul D. Ceglia, the Allegany County man who claims to own half of the social networking giant, maintains threats against one of his attorneys prompted the attorney to withdraw from the case.
Ceglia also says Facebook's attorneys are behind the criminal charges brought against him by federal prosecutors..
"I appreciate the fear for his own safety that he has and the threats that have been made against him," he said in a telephone conference call with U.S. Magistrate Judge Leslie G. Foschio. "Worse has happened to me."
Facebook's attorneys, who were part of the same conference call, denied any suggestion that they influenced the U.S. attorney in Manhattan or his criminal prosecution of Ceglia.
They also say Ceglia's allegations of threats against Dean Boland, one of his attorneys, are untrue.
"We have reason to believe those representations to the court are overstated, exaggerated or worse," Orin Snyder, one of Facebook's defense attorneys, told Foschio.
Ceglia's allegations came during a conference over Boland's desire to withdraw from the case and a confidential letter he sent to Foschio outlining the reasons why.
Boland, who is at least the fifth lawyer to drop Ceglia as a client, would not comment on those reasons Tuesday, and Ceglia stopped short of elaborating on what threats he says were made against Boland or who made them.
Boland's request to withdraw from the high-profile case came just four days after federal prosecutors charged Ceglia, a Wellsville resident, with fraud in connection with his ownership suit.
In a recent letter to the court, Paul A. Argentieri, Ceglia's other attorney, said Facebook was "instrumental in the initiation of the criminal proceedings against my client as a tool to gain an advantage in these civil proceedings."
He repeated those assertions Tuesday and said Facebook's attorneys have a personal relationship with federal prosecutors handling the criminal case.
"Those charges were the decision of the United States Department of Justice," Snyder said in response.
Facebook's attorneys have asked Foschio to make Boland's letter public and, in the past, have described Ceglia's legal representation as a "revolving door of lawyers" and proof that his suit is a hoax.
Ceglia's suit – he's seeking at least a 50 percent stake in Facebook – is based on his contention that he and Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg signed a contract in 2003.
Facebook acknowledges Zuckerberg signed a contract with Ceglia while he was a student at Harvard University but contends it had nothing to do with Facebook.