Two eBay executives have received jail time after pleading guilty to a cyberstalking scheme against a couple behind an ecommerce media site that had been critical of the tech giant.
Former eBay executive James Baugh was last week sentenced to nearly five years in jail after terrorising the married publishers of the EcommerceBytes website, David and Ina Steiner.
Another eBay executive, David Harville, was sentenced to two years in prison.
At the time of the offences, Baugh was a senior director of Safety and Security at eBay, while Harville was the director of Global Resiliency.
In total, seven eBay employees pleaded guilty to being behind the scheme, which included sending a bloody pig head mask, a box of live cockroaches, a book on surviving the loss of a spouse and a funeral wreath, among other items, to the editors of the website.
The group also set up spoof social media profiles to send threatening messages to the Steiners and posted their home address online.
The judge said that the group had been “enraged” by some stories on the couple’s website, which is used by online sellers using various platforms to sell their goods.
Along with mailing the disturbing goods, some members of the group also travelled to a different state to surveil the couple, and allegedly attempted to break into their garage to install a GPS tracker on their car.
David Steiner told the judge in the case that the relentless harassment made the couple’s lives a “living hell”.
“This was a bizarre, premeditated assault on our lives…with buy-in at the highest levels of eBay,” Steiner said in court.
“What eBay – the defendant and other co-conspirators, both indicted and indicted – did to us has changed me forever and I don’t think the old David is coming back.”
The strange plan was launched after Ina Steiner wrote a story about a court case brought by eBay against Amazon, accusing it of stealing their sellers.
eBay executives labelled the author a “biased troll who needs to get BURNED DOWN”.
Baugh proceeded to order others to use prepaid debit cards, disguises and overseas email accounts to begin the campaign of terror against the couple, the court heard
Baugh’s lawyer argued that he was a “tool” being used by higher ups at eBay, who placed “intense, relentless pressure” on him to do something about the reporting by the Steiners.
He was then discarded by eBay when an “army of outside lawyers descended to conduct an ‘internal investigation’ aimed at saving the company and its top executives from prosecution”, his lawyer claimed.
Baugh apologised to the Steiners before his sentence was handed down.
“I take 100 percent responsibility for this, and there is no excuse for what I have done,” he said.
“The bottom line is simply this: if I had done the right thing and been strong enough to make the right choice, we wouldn’t be here today, and for that I am truly sorry.”
The case was investigated by the US Department of Justice, with the group of eBay executives arrested in 2020 for allegedly “orchestrating an extensive and disturbing campaign of harassment and intimidation against a middle-aged couple”.
“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,” an investigator said.
“We’ve never seen a company do anything like this before.”
The Steiners have also sued eBay and a number of employee including its former CEO over an alleged conspiracy to “intimidate, threaten to kill, torture, terrorise, stalk and silence them” to “stifle” their reporting on the company.
The former CEO, Devin Wenig, has denied any knowledge of the harassment scheme and his lawyers have called for the claims to be dismissed.