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Life on the lam: Paul Ceglia's path from WNY to Ecuador

To hear his lawyer tell it, Paul Ceglia's arrest was like a scene out of a Tom Clancy novel.

Eight to 10 black and gray SUVs and vans surrounded Ceglia as he waited for his wife, Iasia, on a street in Quito, Ecuador.

Out jumped U.S. marshals and local police who, without incident, took the Allegany County man into custody after three years on the lam.

"It had to be either a tip or surveillance," said Robert Ross Fogg, the Buffalo attorney defending Ceglia.

After talking with family members, Fogg said he now knows what happened on that late August day when his client, the man who still claims to own half of Facebook, was discovered and arrested.

He also knows a lot more about Ceglia's time in Ecuador. Most notable among his discoveries: a 6-month old son named Orayan, born in the time Ceglia had been a fugitive.

"Paul is doing well," Fogg said earlier this week. "He's not harmed and he's trying to fight his extradition."

For Ceglia, the arrest in Ecuador is simply the latest chapter in a life that is best remembered for his claims that he helped start Facebook, the social networking giant.

Ceglia filed a federal lawsuit in Buffalo, but the courts found his highly touted contract with Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg from their days at Harvard a fraud.

Even before his final appeal was dismissed, Ceglia found himself facing criminal charges tied to his false ownership claims. That is when Fogg entered the picture.

(Bloomberg photo by Andrew Harrer)

By Fogg's account, Ceglia has been in Ecuador for at least two years, maybe more.

He presumes his client, his wife and their two children made their way there by traveling through other countries. What he doesn't know yet is how Ceglia did it without a legal passport.

He dismisses the reports that Iasia, tired of Ecuador, turned her husband in, and insists there are other, more credible explanations for how federal authorities finally found Ceglia.

Chief among them is the woman, a friend of Iasia's, who visited them in Ecuador and left the day Ceglia was arrested. Fogg thinks government surveillance may have picked up on her trip and used her to find him.

He also recounted in dramatic detail Ceglia's arrest shortly before 8 a.m. on Aug. 23 in Quito, the Ecuadorian capital and a city high in the Andean foothills.

Fogg said Iasia was on her way back from taking her friend to the airport when she noticed a gray van following her. She said the van eventually disappeared, only to be replaced by a black SUV.

Nervous, she called her husband and arranged to meet him at a new location, according to Fogg.

"As soon as Paul arrived, the black SUV and gray van blocked his path," he said. "And then six to eight other vehicles came out of nowhere and surrounded him."

U.S. Marshals declined to comment on Fogg's account of what happened that morning in Quito.

In custody since his arrest, Ceglia has been able to see and talk to his 14-year-old son, Leenan, Fogg said. He's not sure about the rest of the family.

Fogg says Roberto Calderon, Ceglia's lawyer in Ecuador, is challenging the legality of his arrest on several grounds.

The first is Ceglia's contention that his first court appearance occurred more than 24 hours after his arrest, a violation of Ecuador's extradition laws.

Calderon is also expected to argue that two separate treaties, one in 1872, the other in 1933, prohibit extradition in wire and mail fraud cases, the kind of prosecution brought against Ceglia in Manhattan federal court.

As part of his review, Fogg thinks the judge will look at when the criminal charges were filed and whether they interfered with Ceglia's civil suit against Facebook. He also is quick to note that his client was taken into custody while the suit was on appeal.

"The judge is looking at whether that was a fair process," Fogg said.

The courts in Ecuador gave Ceglia 45 days to file court papers seeking his release and are expected to give the government an equal amount of time to respond.

So, in short, it could be three months, probably longer, before it is known if Ceglia is coming back to the U.S.

Fogg, noting that Ceglia's infant son in an Ecuadorian citizen, said there also could be an immigration case involving his client.

Ceglia's extradition challenge comes three years after he escaped from home confinement at his residence in Wellsville and sent federal investigators on a global manhunt.

He escaped by removing his ankle bracelet and attaching it to a ceiling fan that made it seem like he was moving about the house.

Probation officials say Ceglia's escape would be impossible now.

"He would not be able to do what he did then without us getting an immediate alert," said Anthony San Giacomo, chief U.S. probation officer in Buffalo.

San Giacomo said Ceglia's escape exposed a vulnerability, and federal probation officials responded by creating a GPS system that includes a device that alerts them when the bracelet is no longer attached to the defendant's leg.

When Ceglia first fled, one of the questions Fogg wanted answered was, "What about Buddy?"

Early on, there was speculation that Ceglia took his dog, as well as his family, when he escaped three years ago.

Not so, says Fogg. He said Leenan confirmed that they found a home for the dog before leaving Wellsville and that he later died after being hit by a car.

"That has always been a question I had," Fogg said of Buddy.

Ceglia's arrest means his wife and three children will again have to wait before learning his fate.

"They'll go where Paul is sent," Fogg said.

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