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Authorities cast a wide net in Ceglia manhunt

Ireland. The Bahamas. Maybe right here in Buffalo.

Where might the global manhunt for Paul Ceglia end?

It’s no secret the man who shocked the world with his claims of owning a share of Facebook has ties to Ireland. He lived there as recently as three years ago and prosecutors say he has dual citizenship.

The Allegany County man also has roots in the Bahamas, where one of his lawyers says he worked in housing for several years.

Investigators won’t comment on where their worldwide search has taken them, except to say that Ceglia’s wanted poster is being widely distributed and already generating leads.

They also know he’s without a passport, which would make it difficult but not impossible to travel out of the country.

“We have no information right now indicating he’s armed or dangerous,” said U.S. Marshal Charles F. Salina. “We also have no information indicating his wife and kids are at risk.”

Ceglia, who was facing a trial on fraud charges in Manhattan in May, is believed to be with his wife, Iasia, 36, two sons, Joseffinn, 11, and Leenan, 10, and the family dog.

Salina said the Marshal’s Fugitive Task Force, which includes the State Police, is spearheading a search that began Sunday night when Ceglia was first discovered missing. On Friday the search took them to Ceglia’s parents’ home near Wellsville.

It was an escape, prosecutors say, that was both inventive and elaborate.

In court papers, they detail how they believe Ceglia removed the electronic monitoring device from around his ankle and then attached it to a motorized device on his ceiling.

They claim the “handmade contraption” was intended to simulate Ceglia moving around his home when, in fact, he was already on the run.

“The purpose of the contraption appeared to be to keep the bracelet in motion using a stick connected to a motor that would rotate or swing the bracelet,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Alexander Wilson said in court papers.

The news of how Ceglia allegedly escaped coincided with a public plea for help from Brianna Caster, Ceglia’s sister-in-law and a professional photographer in Southern California.

In a message posted on her Facebook page, Caster included photos of her sister and her two sons and seemed to suggest they may not have gone willingly with Ceglia.

“This is my sister, and her two children,” she says in the message. “They have been missing for 3 days. Please share this image, and call your local authorities if you happen to see them.”

Two days later, Caster posted a new message thanking people for the tips and leads they provided to law enforcement.

“We are hopeful but still have not heard anything,” she said. “Please continue to share this story.”

The U.S. Marshals, who are leading the search for Ceglia, are asking anyone with information about his whereabouts to call (800) 336-0102.

It was the Marshals and State Police who traveled to Ceglia’s home Sunday after receiving an initial report that he might have tampered with his ankle bracelet. When they arrived, he was gone.

“Nobody was there,” Salina said.

What they found instead was the motorized contraption outlined in court papers this week.

When they went public with Ceglia’s disappearance on Monday, Salina said, the calls and tips started coming in.

“We’re out there following up leads and doing interviews,” he said, “and we’re encouraging anyone else with information to please call.”

Robert Ross Fogg, one of Ceglia’s lawyers, doesn’t buy the escape theory. He thinks Ceglia was too passionate about his Facebook case to simply give it up and run. He also thinks it’s possible Ceglia and his family are the victims of foul play.

“Maybe I’m wrong,” Fogg said Friday. “Maybe he decided to give up. Maybe he decided, ‘I’ll never get justice.’ ”

Fogg said he hasn’t heard from Ceglia since he went missing and has no clue where he is. He thinks the Marshals are looking in a lot of places.

“The government has suggested Ireland,” he said. “The government has suggested the Bahamas. I also know they’re looking up here in Buffalo.”

Fogg said Ceglia and his wife have family in the area.

Ceglia’s disappearance came eight months after he tried to loosen the conditions of his pre-trial release and prosecutors warned he might try to escape.

At the time, prosecutor Janis Echenberg raised the possibility that Ceglia could travel just a few hours from his home, cross the border into Canada and then use fake travel documents to make his way back to Ireland.

“While we have an extradition treaty with Ireland, it is rarely ever enforced,” Echenberg told the court.

Annalisa Miron, an assistant federal public defender, argued that her client had been “totally compliant” and said Ceglia wanted to “enjoy the summer with his children” by going hiking.

Miron said the ankle bracelet also was an “embarrassment” and that her client developed a rash after wearing it for more than 18 months.

The judge refused to remove the bracelet.

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

The prosecution, led by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, 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 Facebook co-founder Mark 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.

Fogg said part of the fallout from Ceglia’s disappearance is that the appeals court reviewing his civil suit is now weighing whether to dismiss it.

He wants Ceglia to know that and hopes the news will be enough incentive for him to return home.

“Tell him,” Fogg said, “that his attorney wants him to come back.”

email: pfairbanks@buffnews.com