A bloody pig head mask, a box of live cockroaches, a book on surviving the loss of a spouse and a funeral wreath were amongst items sent to the editors of a website by six former eBay executives at the centre of a vicious cyberstalking campaign.
In a stunning case investigated by the US Department of Justice, the group launched the nasty scheme against the Natick, Massachusetts-based website in the US, EcommerceBytes because it was critical of eBay.
Speaking to the media, Andrew Lelling of the US Attorney’s Office in the District of Massachusetts said the former eBay employees had been arrested for allegedly “orchestrating an extensive and disturbing campaign of harassment and intimidation against a middle-aged couple.”
Couple Ina and David Steiner are the publishers of the website and newsletter.
“It was a systematic campaign fuelled by the resources of a Fortune 500 company to emotionally and psychologically terrorise this couple with the goal of deterring them from writing bad things online about eBay,” Lelling alleged.
“We’ve never seen a company do anything like this before.”
Other items sent to the couple included live spiders and adult material sent to their neighbours but in the couple’s names.
Lelling said the executives also attempted to send a dead pig embryo but the supplier became suspicious and the plan was aborted.
All the way up
While Google, Facebook and Amazon seem to make the most headlines for their conduct, eBay for the most part has slipped under the radar.
What is astonishing in this eBay case is the level of the executives involved in this scheme.
The following have been arrested or are in the process of being arrested:
· James Baugh, 45, eBay’s former Senior Director of Safety & Security
· David Harville, 48, eBay’s former Director of Global Resiliency
· Stephanie Popp, 32, eBay’s former Senior Manager of Global Intelligence
· Stephanie Stockwell, 26, former manager of eBay’s Global Intelligence Center (GIC);
· Veronica Zea, 26, a former eBay contractor who worked as an intelligence analyst in the GIC
· Brian Gilbert, 51, a former Senior Manager of Special Operations for eBay’s Global Security Team
Baugh and Harville have been charged “by criminal complaint with conspiracy to commit cyberstalking and conspiracy to tamper with witnesses”.
According to the DoJ, “charges of conspiracy to commit cyberstalking and conspiracy to tamper with witnesses each carry a sentence of up to five years in prison, three years of supervised release, a fine of up to $250,000 and restitution”.
What’s the big deal?
EcommerceBytes is a resource for online sellers who use various platforms to push their wares.
The website contains news of interest to sellers, and stories that are sometimes critical of eBay and other ecommerce companies.
Lelling alleged the victims were targeted because eBay executives were unhappy with the coverage of eBay on the couple’s website.
“They weren’t just unhappy,” he added. “They were enraged.”
One executive said he want to “crush this lady” [running the website] and another said to “take her down”.
Beginning in August 2019, Baugh is alleged to have directed subordinates to “set up anonymous email accounts, mobile phones and Internet connections and use them to send harassing and disturbing deliveries to the victims’ home, all paid for with prepaid debit cards.”
Fourteen minutes after sending the pig mask to the couple’s home, they sent a message that read, “DO I HAVE YOUR ATTENTION NOW?” in all-capital letters.
At one stage, Baugh, Harville and others flew from California to Boston to surveil the couple.
“This allegedly included trying to break into the couple garage so they could install a GPS on their car,” Lelling said.
“Before the trip, Baugh and others practised installing a GPS on a Toyota Rav4 in the eBay parking lot.”
Over the following days, the publishing couple were followed by rental cars as they went about their business.
Meanwhile, the harassment worsened with the eBay execs allegedly placing an classified ad on US advertising site Craigslist inviting singles, couples, and swingers to party at their house any time after 10pm each night.
Can we help?
Later, Gilbert – in his capacity as Senior Manager of Special Operations for eBay’s Global Security Team – reached out to the couple to express concern and offer help, Lelling alleged.
After speaking with the couple, Gilbert later reported back to the cohort that the couple was “completely rattled”.
By this stage, the harassment had been reported to Natick police, and once the eBay execs caught on, they began fabricating evidence, according to Lelling, including a false allegation the couple had threatened eBay’s CEO.
Gilbert even met with the Natick police to offer assistance.
“At one point, when several of the defendents feared that the Natick police might trace the harrasment campaign back to California, they compiled a list of people living in the Santa Clara area who they might be able to frame for the harassment activity if needed,” Lelling alleged.
“Baugh directed Stephanie Popp and Stephani Stockwell to find suitable candidates.”
Digging themselves even further, the execs allegedly lied to eBay’s in-house lawyers “who were trying to figure out what was going on”.
“Defendents Harville and Popp were interviewed by phone, both of them lying about their involvement,” Lelling said.
“Popp then allegedly sat in on the interviews of other co-defendants to coach them about what to say to the in-house lawyers at eBay.”
The group then attempted to delete all texts and social media messages related to the scheme but failed, Lelling said.
“[All] this was done to protect a corporation’s brand.
“It wasn’t the WSJ, it was a routine newsletter the couple had published for many years,” a clearly baffled Lelling said.