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Facebook case’s latest twist; Ceglia is missing

There was always something big and bizarre about Paul Ceglia’s legal battle with Facebook.

Even the initial allegations – the Allegany County man’s contention that he owned half of the social networking giant and had a contract to prove it – seemed larger than life.

And then came the revelations about Ceglia’s past business dealings and the string of law firms – four at last count – that came and went from his legal team.

Now, nearly five years after he first filed suit against Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, Ceglia has added a new chapter.

He’s on the run.

“It appears he has fled,” U.S. District Judge Vernon S. Broderick said at a hearing in Manhattan on Tuesday.

Broderick also revoked Ceglia’s bail, prompting a manhunt for the 41-year-old whose Facebook ownership claims in 2010 garnered headlines across the world.

Just weeks before he was set to go on trial in Manhattan, Ceglia is believed to have broken the electronic monitoring bracelet around his ankle and fled his home outside Wellsville.

“I don’t know where he is,” said Robert Ross Fogg, of Buffalo, one of Ceglia’s lawyers. “I’ve had no contact with my client.”

Fogg said law enforcement officials told him that Ceglia’s ankle bracelet was found at his home when he was first discovered missing.

When asked why he might have fled, Fogg declined to speculate beyond voicing concern about his client’s personal safety.

“I’m concerned for his well-being,” he said. “No one is really talking about foul play.”

In a news release late Tuesday, the U.S. Marshals Service said Ceglia is believed to be traveling with his wife, Iasia, two children and the family dog. The agency is encouraging anyone with information to call 800-336-1012. No one on either side of Ceglia’s criminal prosecution has speculated on where he might be, although Facebook’s lawyers once accused him of fleeing to a hideout in Ireland. The company declined to comment Tuesday.

Charged with fraud, Ceglia is accused of operating a “multimillion-dollar scheme” to defraud Facebook. His trial was set to begin next month in Manhattan.

Led by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara in Manhattan, the prosecution grew out of Ceglia’s civil suit claiming part-ownership of Facebook. The case, filed in federal court in Buffalo, was ultimately dismissed by U.S. District Judge Richard J. Arcara.

In ruling against Ceglia, Arcara adopted the recommendations of U.S. Magistrate Judge Leslie G. Foschio, who found Ceglia’s purported contract with Zuckerberg to be a “recently created fabrication.”

Filed in 2010, Ceglia’s suit was based on his contention that he and Zuckerberg signed the contract in 2003.

Facebook acknowledges that Zuckerberg signed a contract with Ceglia while a student at Harvard University, but the social media giant contends that the contract had nothing to do with Facebook.

In the five years since he filed suit, Ceglia has run into a series of setbacks, legal and otherwise, including allegations that he was involved in a wood pellet scheme that defrauded innocent people.

As his civil suit unfolded, he soon found himself on the defensive and at one point had accumulated more than $80,000 in court-ordered fines and sanctions.

Even more important, perhaps, his legal team, which at various times has included some of Buffalo’s most prominent attorneys, has changed as lawyers joined and subsequently withdrew from the case.

Some of those lawyers are now being sued by Facebook.