Paul Ceglia, an Allegany County man who claimed he owned half of the social networking giant Facebook and disappeared in 2015 just before his fraud trial in Manhattan federal court began, is being held in Ecuador and in the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service, a Marshals Service spokesman confirmed to The Buffalo News Thursday.
The arrest was also confirmed by Robert Ross Fogg, Ceglia's Buffalo attorney in the criminal case.
"I don't know the circumstances of how he was caught, but I received a copy of a letter from the federal prosecutor in New York City stating that Paul was arrested in Ecuador this morning," Fogg told The News Thursday afternoon. "I understand there will be an extradition hearing in Ecuador within the next 24 hours."
In 2010, Paul Ceglia filed a lawsuit against Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg claiming he owned half of the social networking giant.
Ceglia's suit was based on his contention that he and Zuckerberg signed a 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.
The courts ultimately agreed and, in one ruling, pointed to "overwhelming forensic evidence" that the document was a fake. Ceglia's lawsuit against Zuckerberg was dismissed.
Ceglia was facing a trial on criminal fraud charges in Manhattan in May 2015 when he fled. He was accused of operating a multimillion-dollar scheme to defraud Facebook. His trial was set to begin the next month in June 2015 in Manhattan.
WGRZ reported on the news that Ceglia had been taken into custody first. Bloomberg News also reported on the development Thursday.
"When I heard he has been found, my reaction was, 'I hope he and everyone in his family are safe,' " said Fogg, "Paul was a charismatic client, a likable guy. I think that if we had the chance to go to trial on that case, we would win against Mr. Zuckerberg."
Based on his past dealings with Ceglia, Fogg said: "I would not be surprised if he fights extradition ... as part of fighting this case."
He said he has not had contact with Ceglia for more than three years. He said he and Ceglia were in regular contact about the Zuckerberg case "when suddenly, he just disappeared."
After not hearing from Ceglia for a long period of time, "I drove down to his home in Wellsville to check for myself," Fogg recalled.
"I got to his house, and it was empty. Paul, his wife, and their two kids were gone," Fogg said. "Even their dog was gone."
Fogg said the Ceglia home was unlocked when he got there to check.
"I figured maybe the U.S. Marshals or someone else in authority had been down there before me, looking for him," Fogg said. "I haven’t heard from Paul or anyone in his family since then."
Fogg said he has put in a lot of legal work on Ceglia's behalf and is willing to help Ceglia if the Zuckerberg case ever goes to trial.
"That's the plan at this point, but we'll have to see what develops," the Buffalo attorney said.
Although the lawsuit was dismissed several years ago, Fogg said Ceglia filed an appeal — which is still pending — seeking to revive the case.
Another bizarre development in Ceglia's case occurred in August 2016, when he allegedly sent emails to the Bloomberg financial news service claiming that he was running for his life from CIA agents who were trying to kill him because of the CIA's secret involvement in the Facebook site.
According to an August 2016 account in the Daily Mail, a British newspaper, Ceglia claimed that the CIA wanted to kill him because he knew "too much" about Facebook and the government spy agency.
Ceglia, his wife Lasia, their two children and dog "Buddy" disappeared from their Wellsville home — where Ceglia was under house arrest — in March 2015, the British newspaper reported.
Police went to Ceglia's home looking for him, and instead found his ankle bracelet "connected to a contraption that was designed to make it look like he was walking around his home," the newspaper reported.
"I felt I had no one in government I could trust," Ceglia wrote in one of his emails to the Bloomberg service. "An opportunity presented itself, so I MacGyver’d some things together and started running for my life."
A spokeswoman for Facebook said "I'm not commenting on that" when asked Thursday afternoon about Ceglia's capture.
The U.S. Attorney's office in the Southern District of New York, which is handling Ceglia's criminal case, had no immediate comment on his capture late Thursday, but court records show that a prosecutor from that New York City office sent a letter notifying a federal judge that Ceglia is in custody and will face extradition proceedings in Ecuador.