A New York man with a shady past has been arrested for using a forged contract with Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg to lay claim to half of the world's leading online social network.
Paul Ceglia, 39, faces two fraud charges that each carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, according to federal prosecutors.
'By marching into federal court for a quick payday based on a blatant forgery, Paul Ceglia has bought himself another day in federal court for attempting a multi-billion-dollar fraud against Facebook and its CEO,' said US Attorney Preet Bharara.
A suit pursued by Ceglia with help from lawyers at DLA Piper contended that he hired then Harvard University student Mark Zuckerberg in 2003 to do software coding for a website, and wound up providing seed money for what Zuckerberg than called 'the face book.'
Evidence presented by Ceglia, whose background includes criminal charges for fraud and a conviction for possession of hallucinogenic mushrooms, included a signed contract and email exchanges.
DLA Piper said it had conducted tests to confirm the purported emails between their client and Zuckerberg were not altered.
Prosecutors said that an investigation revealed that the contract and emails were bogus.
Ceglia replaced the first page of a two-page contract with Zuckerberg for software work for the StreetFax website, then 'doctored, fabricated and destroyed evidence to support his false claim,' the US Attorney's office found.
A search of one of Ceglia's computer hard drives uncovered a copy of the real contract, which 'does not refer to Facebook in any fashion, let alone give Ceglia a 50-percent interest in it,' prosecutors said.
Facebook lawyers had denounced Ceglia's lawsuit as a fraud from the outset.