Facebook Claims ‘Smoking Gun’ in New York Man’s Lawsuit

By CAROLYN THOMPSON | August 15, 2011

Attorneys for Facebook and its founder, Mark Zuckerberg, say they’ve found “smoking gun” evidence on a New York man’s computer proving he made up his claim that a contract he signed with Zuckerberg in 2003 makes him part owner of the social network.

Facebook’s statements, the strongest yet in what’s been a testy case, are contained in court filings in advance of legal arguments scheduled for Wednesday. Each side has accused the other of withholding materials.

Facebook attorney Orin Snyder said Paul Ceglia hasn’t complied with a judge’s order to hand over certain electronic documents and that he’s improperly classified others as confidential.

“He does not want the public to know what was discovered on his computers because it includes smoking-gun documents that conclusively establish that he fabricated the purported contract and that this entire lawsuit is a fraud and a lie,” Snyder wrote.

Details of the documents are redacted in court filings. Facebook spokesman Andrew Noyes declined to comment.

Ceglia’s attorneys, meanwhile, complain the Facebook lawyers haven’t given them 175 relevant emails from Zuckerberg’s old Harvard University account or a court-ordered sampling of his handwriting from 2003.

Zuckerberg’s “willing refusal to comply with the obligations imposed on him by the court’s order can only be characterized as an obstructive delay tactic,” attorneys Jeffrey Lake and Paul Argentieri wrote.

Ceglia, of Wellsville, says he and Zuckerberg met and signed a two-page agreement in the lobby of a Boston hotel on April 28, 2003. Zuckerberg, then a Harvard student, had responded to a Craigslist help-wanted ad for work on a street-mapping database called StreetFax that Ceglia was creating.

According to the lawsuit, the contract shows that Ceglia paid Zuckerberg $1,000 to work on the project and gave him another $1,000 after Zuckerberg told him about his idea to create a kind of online yearbook. Ceglia was to get half of the business if it got off the ground. Ceglia attached a series of email exchanges in which he said he and Zuckerberg discussed the arrangement.

Lawyers for Palo Alto, Calif.-based Facebook have accused Ceglia of altering the original street-mapping agreement to insert references to Facebook and fabricating the emails altogether. They’ve countered with emails pulled from Harvard’s server that they say show Zuckerberg and Ceglia discussing StreetFax but never Facebook.

Ceglia first filed his lawsuit in 2010, six years after Facebook’s launch. The social network now claims 750 million users and has an estimated net worth of $50 billion.

Facebook’s latest filings say Ceglia has given them access to a collection of computers, floppy disks and thousands of CDs, but not other electronic documents he was ordered to produce. Nevertheless, “a painstaking forensic analysis” of Ceglia’s computers revealed embedded electronic data that proves the contract is a fake, according to the filing.

Ceglia has also hindered forensics experts’ efforts to fully test and date the ink on the contract by limiting the amount of ink they can collect, the motion said.

The lawyers are scheduled to appear before U.S. Magistrate Judge Leslie Foschio in Buffalo on Wednesday on their competing requests to compel production of withheld materials. If necessary, a second hearing will take place Thursday.

Even before gaining court-ordered access to the original contract, Facebook experts who examined a photocopied version had determined it was doctored, according to court filings. Document authentication authorities cited differences between the widths of margins and type size from one page to the next.

Ceglia has stood by his claims, saying in a written declaration to the court in June that “Zuckerberg’s statements about our agreement are false” and that the contract is genuine.

He says he drafted the “work-for-hire” contract by cutting and pasting from different forms and then printed it out for his 2003 meeting with Zuckerberg.

His attorneys did not return calls seeking comment on the latest filing.

A Facebook expert also picked apart the emails Ceglia submitted, comparing them to known Zuckerberg writings to see whether the writing style and use of punctuation matched. They didn’t, a linguistics expert concluded.

A Facebook private investigator, meanwhile, looked into Ceglia himself. His report listed, among other things, a 1997 conviction in Texas for possession of hallucinogenic mushrooms, a 2005 no contest plea to trespassing in Florida and a 2009 petition by the New York attorney general’s office accusing Ceglia and his wife of defrauding customers of their wood pellet business by accepting upfront payment for pellets they never delivered. The case is pending.

For his part, Ceglia hired an expert who said he’d passed a lie-detector test when asked about the contract.

“While I have made some mistakes in my life, I accept responsibility for those actions,” he wrote in his June declaration.

Court documents indicate he’s living in Ireland.

Was this article valuable?

Here are more articles you may enjoy.