Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, right, sits at a G8 Summit meeting in… (Philippe Wojazer, Reuters )
Facebook Inc. escalated its legal fight against an upstate New York man who contends he's entitled to half of founder Mark Zuckerberg's multibillion-dollar stake in the social networking company by taking the unusual step of asking a judge to speed up the fact-finding phase of the case.
In a filing Thursday in federal court in Buffalo, N.Y., Facebook said its forensic experts have determined that Paul Ceglia doctored a 2003 contract and fabricated emails he said he exchanged with Zuckerberg. According to the experts cited in the filing, the contract is a "cut-and-paste job" and the emails are "complete fabrications."
Facebook is asking the judge in the case to force Ceglia to turn over documents and computers.
Ceglia cited the emails in an amended complaint he filed in April. He said the emails supported his claim that he and Zuckerberg had formed a partnership. But he did not provide original copies.
According to the Facebook filing, Zuckerberg has sworn under oath that he did not write or receive any of the alleged emails. Facebook said it found email correspondence on Zuckerberg's Harvard account that contradicts Ceglia. Its forensic experts said they examined 175 emails the two men exchanged, and none of the emails mentioned Facebook.
"Mr. Ceglia welcomes the opportunity to expedite discovery in this case and disagrees with the opinions within the filing, which have been made by those who have not examined the actual contract at issue in this case or any of the other relevant evidence," the law firms representing Ceglia — DLA Piper and Lippes Mathias Wexler Friedman — said in a statement.
Ceglia's original claims were met with skepticism because of his checkered past, which includes a conviction for possession of hallucinogenic mushrooms in 1997 and more recent fraud allegations involving his wood-pellet business.
"This motion confirms, through expert testimony and other powerful evidence, what we have said all along: This case is an egregious fraud," said Orin Snyder, a Gibson Dunn partner who is counsel for Zuckerberg and Facebook.
For years Zuckerberg has battled allegations from fellow Harvard alumni Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss that they, not Zuckerberg, came up with the idea for Facebook. Now he's wrestling with another person making claims to the billions in wealth created by Facebook, which has been valued at more than $50 billion.
Facebook concedes that Zuckerberg did some programming work for Ceglia in 2003 to earn money while he was a freshman at Harvard. But the Palo Alto company denies Zuckerberg gave Ceglia a stake in Facebook, which launched in 2004.