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Paul Ceglia: The Man Who Would Have Facebook

Is Paul Ceglia a sleazy grifter, Mark Zuckerberg's long-lost angel investor, or both?
ceglia Paul Ceglia: The Man Who Would Have Facebook

Illustration by David Saracino.

PAUL CEGLIA IS A PUDGY 38-YEAR-OLD, with greasy black hair and creases around his light brown eyes, a serial small-time entrepreneur who could sell you the Brooklyn Bridge. “He’s got tremendous confidence,” said Bill Castle, an upstate hotelier and one of Mr. Ceglia’s many bilious former business partners. “Smiles all the time, got this award-winning smile. Even when under pressure, he continues to smile.”

Mr. Ceglia piqued the nation’s curiosity when he filed a lawsuit last year in the Supreme Court of New York’s Allegany County claiming 84 percent ownership of Facebook; he piqued Betabeat’s when we read that he had been arrested for felony possession of magic mushrooms in Texas, claimed to have founded a natural burial cemetery in Ithaca and once operated an ice cream shop.

He also ran a video rental store, flipped real estate on eBay and owns a wood pellets company that was shut down by the Attorney General due to allegations of fraud. He’s currently working on a prototype of a “refrigerator/cookstove for use in developing nations,” he told the Wellsville Daily Reporter.

While none of his schemes have been especially lucrative so far, one failed venture may yet make him rich: StreetFax.com, a database of street photographs that Mr. Ceglia intended to license to insurance companies for use in evaluating claims, was built in part with code written by a young for-hire developer named Mark Zuckerberg. A 2003 contract with the programmer, now better known as the founder of Facebook, is the basis of Mr. Ceglia’s claim that he is entitled to half of the company.

Mr. Ceglia has so far been less of a nuisance for Facebook and its legal staff than the Winklevoss twins, Tyler and Cameron, whose claim that Mr. Zuckerberg stole the idea for Facebook from them during his Harvard days formed the basis for the Oscar-winning film The Social Network and netted them a settlement of $65 million.

Mr. Ceglia’s much simpler assertion is essentially that he helped to fund Mr. Zuckerberg’s work on Facebook in the early days of its development, and is therefore entitled to a share of  the company. Mr. Zuckerberg affirms he signed a contract concerning StreetFax after answering Mr. Ceglia’s Craigslist ad. But according to Mr. Ceglia, Mr. Zuckerberg also approached him seeking funding for another project he was working on: “The Facebook,” as the site was originally called. Mr. Ceglia says he gave Mr. Zuckerberg at least $1,000 for the project. (“He actually felt bad because Mark was making him so much money [on StreetFax],” a friend said.) According to Mr. Ceglia, the two men drew up a contract giving Mr. Ceglia half of “The Facebook,” and more if the project was not completed by January 1, 2004.

Mr. Ceglia’s filings with the court include a copy of a paper contract that refers to Facebook and excerpts from emails Mr. Ceglia claimed he’d saved by copying and pasting the text into Microsoft Word. In the purported emails, Mr. Zuckerberg and Mr. Ceglia renegotiated for an even 50-50 partnership before Mr. Zuckerberg called The Facebook a flop and said he wanted to refund Mr. Ceglia’s money. Mr. Ceglia claims he did not take the money back, electing to write off the affair as a loss.

Facebook says the contract and emails are forged. The company filed what it says is the authentic contract, which it found on Mr. Ceglia’s computer and on a computer at the law firm Sidley Austin. That contract only mentions StreetFax.

Mr. Ceglia has taken a thrashing in the media and run through three law firms, all of which declined to say why they’d dropped him as a client. But a year and more than 100 filings later, his case is still ongoing.

Orin Snyder, attorney for Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook, does not sound like someone looking to negotiate a settlement. “Irrefutable forensic evidence confirms that this case is a fraud,” he told Betabeat. “Ceglia continues to abuse the judicial process by refusing to comply with multiple court orders.  We will ask the court to dismiss this case and impose sanctions after Ceglia produces the emails and other evidence that he has been concealing.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Ceglia is already hatching plans for taking Facebook to the next level. “I’m starting to have all sorts of opinions as to what I’ll do when I’m at the helm,” he wrote in an email to Emil Protalinski of the tech blog ZDNet, one of a handful of press interviews he’s given in the past year (the others were to the Wellsville Daily Reporter and the Irish local paper The Connacht Sentinel). He also told reporters he’d be willing to hire Mr. Zuckerberg.

Follow Adrianne Jeffries on Twitter or via RSS. ajeffries@observer.com


  1. Best first sentence ever.

  2. Matt says:

    Even if every negative thing about Ceglia were true, it does not mean that Zuck didn’t sign a legitimate contract.

  3. Vague_rant says:

    This is probably not terribly relevant, but as someone from the “small town” of Wellsville, I would like to point out that Ceglia’s sons are not twins–there is not much of an age gap there, but there is a gap. If that fact is misreported here, what else might be?

    1. Anonymous says:

      That fact and others were submitted to Mr. Ceglia and his lawyer for fact-checking. But it could have been an oversight.

      1. Anonymous says:

        (This has been fixed, thank you for pointing it out.)

  4. a grandma says:

    any one who knows mr. ceglia  is aware he is a 100% fraud just like his wood pellet business any clams he makes are laughable what about the people who ordered wood pellets for heat and got nothing. thats why he smile all the time he knows he can steal someone elses money get away with it and do it again in some other scam  you could be next and he would smile say what ever you wanted to hear while he was doing it

    1. Anonymous says:

      from facebook ; The idea facebook was not zuckerberg IDEA; and the winklevoss
      did a double-cross and went with zuck . and zuckerberg fuck over the
      And the winklevoss used the information to extort money out of
      zuckerberg by extortion . but the idea facebook was not the winklevoss idea and
      was not mark zuckerberg idea and you now it

      Michale McKibben said several
      years ago Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg ripped off the programming code his
      company developed,
      this is true zuck stole the programming code. and then
      stole the idea facebook.

      lisa simpson was made
      a were of the fact that ZUCKERBERG had sign a contract to PAUL CEGLIA years a go
      ‘and was a where that on a VIDEO DISK ZUCKERBERG openly admitted ;saying that
      facebook was not his idea

  5. Grandma Mimi says:

    If you knew Ceglia and his way of doing things, you would not even think him innocent. He is sleezy and dishonest…I am sure it is true that he has not one stake in facebook at all. He is a dirtbag

  6. Ira Warboys says:

    Paul Ceglia’s picture and name should be printed on the front page of every newspaper and billboard on earth along with the list of scam’s he has pulled. Evryone should know who he is so they know what to expect from him. He need’s to be held accountable for the bs he does! Maybe if he had been punished to the full extent instead of just paying restituition, he could have made his money in a legit way. Or at least made him understand the pain and suffering he has put people through. Knowing the way he is, I’m sure there are more people out there that he has giving false hopes and stolen money from them and they haven’t gotten anything back.