Six former eBay employees – including its head of security – have been charged over a vicious and sustained campaign of abuse which saw the owners of an ecommerce newsletter sent threatening online messages, as well as a box of cockroaches, a bloody pig mask and a funeral wreath to their house.
The case dates back to the beginning of 2019, when Ina and David Steiner, who run the publication Ecommercebytes, published a critical newsletter about eBay, even detailing then then CEO David Wenig’s salary.
According to court papers filed in the US, Wenig is understood to have messaged colleagues with instructions to “take (Ina Steiner) down”, to which one of the group responded: “We are going to crush this lady.”
The Department of Justice alleges that former eBay director of safety and security James Baugh and ex-director of global resiliency David Harville were the brains behind the operation.
Federal authorities arrested Harville on Monday. They are looking for Baugh; both men are charged with conspiracy to commit cyberstalking and conspiracy to commit witness tampering.
Also charged but not arrested were former senior manager of global intelligence Stephanie Popp, ex-security chief Brian Gilbert, former manager of eBay’s Global Intelligence Center Stephanie Stockwell, and former eBay contractor who worked as an intelligence analyst in the GIC Veronica Zea.
They are each charged with conspiracy to commit cyberstalking and conspiracy to tamper with witnesses and will appear in federal court in Boston.
The charge-sheet claims the “gang of six” created anonymous Twitter accounts to send insults and threats to the Massachusetts couple, and even posted their address on online classified websites inviting strangers over for “sex day or night”.
Their campaign of abuse then escalated into personal harassment, including shipping the pig mask, the cockroaches, and the wreath, as well as another box of fly larvae and live spiders, pornography, and a book on “surviving the loss of a spouse”.
It is claimed that the gang eventually planned for eBay to step in and offer to help the couple against the harassment, leading to positive coverage of the company; a plot Baugh apparently compared to the Ridley Scott film Body of Lies.
The gang was eventually busted when local police discovered that they were planning to break into the couple’s garage and install a tracking device on their car; the police then connected them to eBay.
Bosses at eBay denied all knowledge of the harassment campaign, insisting they had only been notified by law enforcement in August 2019.
The company posted a statement saying that it terminated all the employees involved in September. It added: “eBay does not tolerate this kind of behavior. eBay apologises to the affected individuals and is sorry that they were subjected to this. eBay holds its employees to high standards of conduct and ethics and will continue to take appropriate action to ensure these standards are followed.”
eBay admitted that former chief Wenig – who exited the firm suddenly in September last year – had made “inappropriate” comments about the newsletter, although “there was no evidence that he knew in advance about or authorized the actions that were later directed toward the blogger and her husband”, it insisted.
In a statement, Wenig said: “As confirmed by the company, following a thorough, independent investigation, I did not direct or know anything about the acts that have been charged in Boston. I have spent my career defending press freedoms. What these charges allege is unconscionable.”