MANHATTAN (CN) - Paul Ceglia should have his bail revoked after having apparently "fled" his prosecution for allegedly cheating Facebook out of half its fortune, a federal judge ruled Tuesday.
Only prosecutors and the judge physically appeared in court at a conference this morning to discuss the surprising development. Ceglia defied an order to appear in court, and his lawyers spoke through a telephone conference on behalf of their missing client.
U.S. District Judge Vernon Broderick called the conference to discuss reports by pretrial service that Ceglia disabled the ankle bracelet he had to wear as a condition of his $250,000 bail.
Ceglia's attorneys - Robert Fogg, from Buffalo, N.Y., and Gil Messina, from Holmdel, N.J. - both said that their client had cut off communication with them since they contacted him last week about a development in his case.
Broderick drew a blunt conclusion: "It appears he has fled."
A pattern could be afoot. In 2011, a federal judge ordered the Wellsville, N.Y., man back to the United States after allegations surfaced that he forged documents supporting a claim that he owned half of Facebook's fortune.
The court-ordered ankle monitor has long proven an albatross for Ceglia, who once complained that it keeps him from taking summer hikes with his children. A public defender told the court that the more than 18 months Ceglia has spent wearing the device caused him to develop a rash.
Prosecutors meanwhile countered that Ceglia's Wellsville home is just a two-hour drive from Canada, a border he could quickly hop and then make his way back to Ireland.
"While we have an extradition treaty with Ireland, it is rarely ever enforced," Assistant U.S. Attorney Janis Echenberg remarked last year.
On Tuesday, Broderick wondered whether flight had been "part of [Ceglia's] plan all along."
"It's not something that's easy to do to tamper with an ankle bracelet," Broderick noted, adding that it is "something that takes planning."
The judge noted that Ceglia's former attorneys requested another modification of bail conditions last September to make the bond securable by "property" rather than "all real property of the defendant and his parents."
Ceglia purportedly wanted the change to help him replace public defenders with private counsel.
Keeping the May 5, 2015, trial date in place, Broderick said he would put an order regarding the bail revocation on the docket today.
"I'm confident he will return to the jurisdiction in the near future," he said.
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