Elsewhere in the 1,147-word email, he wrote, “You won’t go public Mark, you won’t IPO, you won’t pass go. I won’t let you sell this company out from under me, not while I have the power to stop you.”
Mr. Ceglia is supposedly holed up somewhere in Galway, Ireland, where he says he and his family fled to escape harassment by Facebook’s investigators.
Through an attorney, Mr. Ceglia declined to speak with Betabeat, and many of his acquaintances refused to speak for attribution. The reasons given were that his hometown of Wellsville, New York, is “a small town,” or that that they feared retribution from Mr. Ceglia or his father, Carmine Ceglia, a local landlord. One source called Mr. Ceglia “dangerous.” A local realtor of Mr. Ceglia’s acquaintance abruptly hung up on Betabeat without explanation. He seemed distressed.
Others may have been reluctant to alienate a future billionaire who might be inclined to share the wealth.
“I love the town,” Mr. Ceglia told the Wellsville Daily Reporter in an email in August. “I plan to do a lot for Wellsville. At the top of my list right now is a Boys and Girls Club of America.”
Wellsville (pop. 8,200) is a rural town sitting eight miles from the Pennsylvania border. It was best known for two things before Paul Ceglia: the Great Wellsville Balloon Rally and the town’s patron John Rigas, who founded Adelphia Communications Corporation in 1952 and grew it into the fifth-largest cable company in the country—before it collapsed in 2002. Mr. Rigas later went to prison for bank, wire and securities fraud.
When Mr. Ceglia was in second grade, his family moved from Wellsville to his mother’s native Ireland for six years. His first homecoming was in the summer before high school, when he showed up unexpectedly at football camp. He ended up not joining the team; he was not athletic, a serious social detriment in Wellsville, classmates said. Instead he developed a reputation as an artsy delinquent who stayed out late, bar-hopping and hustling at pool with older friends. At one point, he ran a poker game out of one of his parents’ vacant rentals, making enough money to pay for concerts and hotel rooms for himself and his friends. He was always trying to get away with just a little bit more, his hometown peers said. In eleventh grade, Mr. Ceglia and his best friend at the time broke into a fruit stand somewhere between Portville and Olean. They were arrested when they tried to use the cash to rent a car.
In time, Mr. Ceglia’s crew gave itself a name: the Carcheones, an inspired fabrication that was more of a brand than the criminal gang some peers imagined it to be. The crew spent most nights playing cards in the garage or playing music out of parked cars and drinking beer. Soon, even the good kids were jostling to join up. But after the fruit stand heist, many parents told their kids to stay away from Paul Ceglia.
Mr. Ceglia embarked on a series of fortune-seeking expeditions, but always ended up back in Wellsville. After high school, he moved to an environmentalist artist colony in Taos, New Mexico, with a girlfriend, returning a few years later with Kristin Van Huysen, a massage therapist and landlord from Washington state. The pair operated a cluster of rental homes under a 501 c(3) corporation called the Wellsville Veterans Project. Ira Warboys, a high school classmate of Mr. Ceglia’s, rented one of the homes and did maintenance work for Ms. Van Huysen. She gave him the impression she and Mr. Ceglia were married.
“I remember they were living in one of the houses down on South Broad Street,” Mr. Warboys said, referring to a suburban side street of single family homes assessed at values between $20,000 and $40,000. “It was a wreck. Roof was fallen right in. They had a tent set up in the living room downstairs. They were living in a tent inside the house. The house didn’t have any power hooked up to it, any gas or anything. I remember it being in the paper that they were arrested in unlivable habitats.” They got caught because neighbors glimpsed them burning lanterns from the street, he said.
In 1995, Ms. Van Huysen won a $5,807 judgment against Mr. Ceglia for a real estate related case, the Buffalo News reported. Apparently they reconciled, because they were arrested together two years later in 1995 in Panola County, Texas, for felony possession of 400 grams of psilocybin mushrooms seized in a highway stop. “That’s a lot of dope,” said county prosecutor Danny Davidson, who processed the case but couldn’t remember it specifically. “I bet you almost anything they were in Houston. Good place to get dope.”
Mr. Ceglia wasn’t into drugs, friends and associates said. It sounded more like a scheme to make a quick buck, they speculated, by pushing the envelope again.
Around 1998, Mr. Ceglia married a Wellsville girl six years his junior, sources recalled; they now have two sons. Iasia McCarthy Ceglia left faint impressions on her husband’s associates, who described her as “nice;” one called her “kind of the flower child type.” The pair had an open relationship, associates told Betabeat, and Mr. Ceglia continued to have girlfriends after his marriage.
A year or two before his wife became pregnant, Mr. Ceglia stumbled into some good contract work: taking pictures for a Massachussetts-based startup called StreetDelivery.com, a database of street photographs for use by insurance companies. StreetDelivery’s founder, Andrew Logan, described him as gracious, competent and “not overly bright.” Mr. Ceglia would bring “cookies, or a little gift” when he came into the office, he said. “Nice guy to deal with,” Mr. Logan said. “But he was a hippie.” He offered as evidence the fact that Mr. Ceglia preferred patterned stationery.
Mr. Ceglia and his boss ended up in a legal dispute over the ownership of the photographs Mr. Ceglia had taken, but the argument was settled in a relatively non-confrontational mediation, Mr. Logan said. Within a year, Mr. Ceglia asked to come work for StreetDelivery again, and Mr. Logan agreed—until he learned that Mr. Ceglia was plotting to launch a competitor called StreetFax. “When we found out, we just stopped paying him and got an attorney,” Mr. Logan recalled. “We might have owed him $10,000 or 20,000, and we just said, ‘the hell with you.’” Mr. Ceglia and Iasia, who was by then pregnant, protested in front of Mr. Logan’s office. “They came to where I work, she with her big belly, with a sign that said I didn’t pay my bills, walking back and forth,” he said. They left after a few hours.
About seven years later, a private investigator turned up at Mr. Logan’s office, asking about Paul Ceglia. “Kroll Associates was up here investigating on behalf of Facebook,” Mr. Logan said. “Showed up one day and scared everyone half to death. At some point there were supposedly some emails, supposedly Paul yelling at Zuckerberg and swearing at him. ‘Grow a set’ or something like that. All I can tell you is, Paul was a pacifist … when he started his company he put out an advertisement about how he didn’t have sickness days, he had wellness days. He didn’t swear. He was very non-confrontational. He was real earthy, crunchy granola guy.”
Mr. Logan believes his contract with Mr. Ceglia for StreetDelivery might entitle him to a share of Facebook as well. “I have the contract buried somewhere in my work shop,” he said.
Dave Wilson, a contract photographer for StreetDelivery at the same time as Mr. Ceglia, said Mr. Ceglia’s work was sloppy at best. “He was making claims for work that he had done, that he had not done,” Mr. Wilson said. Mr. Ceglia tried to convince his former coworker to join StreetFax, but Mr. Wilson declined. At StreetDelivery, Mr. Wilson recalled not being able to find half the photos Mr. Ceglia claimed to have taken. “It was left to me to clean up the mess he had created,” he said. “Either he was just lying or he was spacey.”
Instead, Mr. Wilson started his own StreetDelivery competitor, StreetsOfCanada.com, which he ran for six years.
“I clearly remember having a conversation with Paul when he was trying to get me interested in his project,” Mr. Wilson said. “He claimed he had a Harvard grad doing the programming for StreetFax. And why I clearly remember that was, I remember that Paul was a nice guy, but prone to exaggeration. And I remember rolling my eyes at that.” This would have been in early 2003, after Mr. Ceglia and Mr. Zuckerberg signed an agreement for contract work in the lobby of a Boston Radisson.