Tuesday, April 19, 2011

New claimant to Facebook fortune a wood-pellet salesman

Mr Zuckerberg allegedly signed a contract in 2003.

NEW YORK: Mr Aaron Sorkin may want to take notice. The script for a prequel to his hit movie, The Social Network, almost writes itself.

Before the cinematic Winklevoss twins battled with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg over the firm's origins, and before co-founder Eduardo Saverin became estranged from him, there was Mr Paul Ceglia.

In one of the strangest tales to hit Silicon Valley in years, Mr Ceglia, a wood-pellet salesman, last year filed suit saying a 2003 work-for-hire contract between him and Mr Zuckerberg, then 18, entitled him to an 84 per cent stake in Facebook.

Mr Ceglia's history did not lend credibility to his claim. In 1997, he pleaded guilty to possession of hallucinogenic mushrooms, and last year was arrested, charged with fraud and had his business shut down.

But the scepticism initially heaped on his claims turned to astonishment last week when he filed an amended complaint in federal court in New York that was written by respected law firm DLA Piper. It includes excerpts from e-mail that was purportedly exchanged between him and Mr Zuckerberg.

So far, neither Mr Ceglia nor his lawyers have produced originals of the e-mail or the contract. Facebook says the e-mail messages were fabricated, and although there was a 2003 contract, it was doctored. The firm has called the lawsuit a fraud.


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