Ecuador has released a former Wellsville-area man and turned down an extradition request from the United States, where he was arrested after falsely claiming he was owed half-ownership of Facebook.
A lawyer for Paul D. Ceglia on Tuesday tweeted a judge’s order that the American be released and confirming that his extradition to the U.S. had been denied.
“That’s Paul Ceglia one, Facebook zero,” said Roberto Calderon, a Quito lawyer who has represented Ceglia in fighting extradition to the U.S.
In an apparent criticism of the U.S., Ecuadorian President Lenín Moreno referred in a recently released letter to cases when the U.S. didn’t heed Ecuador’s own requests for the extradition of citizens who allegedly committed crimes.
Bloomberg reports that Ceglia has a 1-year-old son, Orayan, who was born to Ceglia and his wife Iasia while they were on the lam. Moreno also pointed to the welfare of the child in making a decision that overruled his nation’s highest court. That court granted the U.S. extradition request in November and affirmed it in February in an appeal.
Ceglia had claimed he gave Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg $1,000 in startup money. He was arrested on fraud charges in the United States in 2012, but later fled to Ecuador. He was arrested there last year.
Ceglia has fought extradition since December as U.S. prosecutors had hoped to bring him to the U.S. for trial on mail and wire fraud charges connected with a lawsuit filed in 2010 seeking the majority ownership of social media giant Facebook.
In 2010, Ceglia filed a lawsuit against Facebook and its founder, Mark Zuckerberg, claiming he was promised 84 percent ownership in the social media website as it was being developed. His lawsuit was later thrown out, and in 2012 Ceglia was accused of fabricating evidence, including a contract and phony emails.
Ceglia was awaiting trial in federal court in New York and was placed under house arrest. Authorities also ordered he wear an ankle bracelet to track his movements.
In March 2015, U.S. marshals found Ceglia’s electronic monitoring bracelet had been removed and hooked to a “hand-made contraption” to simulate movement and charging cycles while he, his wife and two children escaped the country.
An arrest warrant was issued by the federal court on Oct. 25, 2017. In April, the U.S. Embassy submitted a request that the Ecuadorian government detain Ceglia for extradition; the request was filed with the president of the National Court of Justice. Ceglia was arrested on Aug. 23 in Salinas, a beachside city of around 50,000 people on the Pacific Ocean known for its warm and dry desert climate and sunshine.
In a letter dated Dec. 6, U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman wrote to the court that Ceglia was ordered extradited to the U.S. on Nov. 15, but Ceglia had appealed the decision.
The case has taken several turns, including nine separate law firms taking over Ceglia’s case, two moves overseas and a connection to an infamous 1998 murder.
In 2011, Ceglia and his family moved to Ireland, and were later ordered by a federal judge to return.
In November 2013, convicted murderer James Charles Kopp identified Ceglia as the shooter in the 1998 murder of abortion doctor Barnett Slepian, for which Kopp is serving a sentence of 25 years to life.
In 2009 in Allegany County, Ceglia and his wife, Iasia, were both charged with one count of first-degree scheme to defraud and a dozen counts of fourth-degree grand larceny. Authorities accused the Ceglias of taking advance payments from consumers, destroying business records or property for selling wood pellets through their Allegany Pellets LLC.
When charges against the Ceglias were levied, then-state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said in a press release the pair had “lied to customers and solicited new orders,” even when it could not “deliver products as promised.