Paul Ceglia, the western New York man who fled to escape charges he faked a contract with Facebook Inc.’s Mark Zuckerberg, is in custody in Ecuador, after more than three years on the lam with his family.
According to Ecuadorian interior ministry sources, Ceglia and his family had been living in Cuenca and Quito.
Ceglia, 45, went missing, along with his wife, two sons and dog, in March 2015, when U.S. marshals forced their way into his Wellsville, New York, home and discovered he’d cut off an ankle bracelet and attached it to a ceiling-mounted, motorized device he rigged to hide his escape. He was awaiting trial on fraud charges in New York.
A judge in Buffalo, New York, had already thrown out Ceglia’s claim to half of Facebook, ruling that he forged a 2003 contract and fabricated emails between him and Zuckerberg, who was then a student at Harvard University. Ceglia, who denied wrongdoing, was charged criminally in 2012.
Ceglia was arrested Thursday morning in a joint operation of Ecuadorian and U.S. law enforcement officials, U.S. attorney Geoffrey Berman wrote in a letter to U.S. District Judge Vernon Broderick. Officers identified Ceglia’s wife, Iasia, then followed her home and made the arrest, according to a person familiar with the matter. Ceglia’s lawyer in the criminal case, Robert Ross Fogg, said he hasn’t heard from his client or from law enforcement officials about the arrest.
“If this is true, then I’m relieved,” Fogg said. “I am hoping that everyone is safe and that everybody gets back safely.”
Ceglia will appear in court in Quito, the capital, within 24 hours for a hearing on extraditing him to the U.S., Berman said in the letter.
The marshals had been seeking Ceglia, who skipped out on a $250,000 bond guaranteed by his brother and parents. They had offered a $5,000 reward for information leading to Ceglia’s arrest.
Ceglia surfaced briefly in a series of emails to a Bloomberg reporter in August 2016. Ceglia said he was alive and well, “living on the air in Cincinnati” — a reference to the television comedy “WKRP in Cincinnati” — and didn’t disclose his location.
“I felt I had no one in government I could trust,” Ceglia wrote in one email, before using a reference to a second TV series. “An opportunity presented itself, so I MacGyver’d some things together and started running for my life.”
A U.S. national living in Cuenca said Ceglia may have been involved illegal internet activities while he was in Ecuador. “He asked to me on several occasions to help him hack into bank accounts,” said the man, who asked not to be identified. “When I refused, he told me he would find someone else to help him.”
Sources: Reuters News, Associated Press