Mark Zuckerberg (Brian Solis)
With a potential fraud conviction in his future, Paul Ceglia is digging into the past to fight criminal charges that he fabricated a contract and other evidence in his failed suit claiming to own a 50 percent of Facebook Inc.
Ceglia, who’s facing a November jury trial in the government’s case, is seeking volumes of evidence that Facebook surely doesn’t want to produce, including many of Mark Zuckerberg’s emails from his undergrad years. According to a brief filed on Monday by the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan, Ceglia has asked the court to issue subpoenas to both Facebook and Harvard University for electronic and hard copy records. Ceglia wants to see the contents of Zuckerberg’s email accounts, hard drives and cellphones from 2003 and 2004, when the soon-to-be billionaire was launching Facebook from his Harvard dorm room. He’s also seeking academic disciplinary records and bank records for all of Zuckerberg’s accounts during that time.
Prosecutors countered in Monday’s brief that Ceglia isn’t entitled to any of it. “The government believes that Ceglia’s theory … is that Zuckerberg somehow ‘hacked’ into Ceglia’s computer to plant a copy of what the government alleges is the legitimate contract,” the brief asserts. “At best, Ceglia will only be able to present this baseless argument through cross-examination of Zuckerberg.”
Ceglia emerged from obscurity in 2010, claiming a college-age Zuckerberg promised him an ownership stake in Facebook years earlier. Ceglia backed up his remarkable claim with emails Zuckerberg purportedly sent from his Harvard email account. Facebook’s lawyers at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher came out swinging, accusing Ceglia of fabricating the emails and doctoring a contract from an unrelated project he undertook with Zuckerberg.
Piggybacking on Gibson Dunn’s discovery efforts, the U.S. attorney’s office brought criminal fraud charges against Ceglia in November 2012. A U.S. magistrate judge in Buffalo recommended tossing Ceglia’s lawsuit a few months later, ruling that his contract was a cut-and-paste job. The case was finally dismissed in March.
The criminal case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Andrew Carter Jr. in Manhattan. Ceglia is represented by David Patton, the chief attorney at the Federal Defenders of New York and a former Sullivan & Cromwell associate. If convicted, Ceglia faces up to 20 years in prison.
Patton asked the judge to issue the subpoenas on Facebook and Harvard back on June 9, according to court filings. When we contacted him on Tuesday, he declined to comment on why the documents from 2003 and 2004 are relevant, but did say he will lay out his argument in a brief due by July 8.
Facebook’s lawyers, Orin Snyder and Alexander Southwell of Gibson Dunn, wrote in a June 27 letter to the court that the Crime Victims’ Rights Act affords Zuckerberg the right to voice his opposition to Ceglia’s subpoena requests. The Facebook lawyers asked for permission to respond to Ceglia by Monday. As of Tuesday afternoon, no such response had been added to the court docket. Snyder didn’t respond to an email seeking comment.