eBay to cough up $3M after cyber-stalking couple who dared criticize the souk
Staff sent live cockroaches, porno – and more – in harassment campaign to silence pair
eBay will pay $3 million to settle criminal charges that its security team stalked and harassed a Massachusetts couple in retaliation for their website's critical coverage of the online tat bazaar.
Under a deferred prosecution agreement [PDF], eBay admits responsibility for the actions of six of its former employees, and a contractor, all of whom previously pleaded guilty to physically and electronically harassing Ina and David Steiner.
The Steiners in 1999 co-founded EcommerceBytes, a website and newsletter that reports on and scrutinizes ecommerce companies, including eBay. Some bosses at the web auction house didn't like the coverage, and decided to make the Steiners' lives a misery to pressure them into silence.
The US Justice Department subsequently charged eBay with two counts of stalking through interstate travel, two counts of stalking through electronic communications services, one count of witness tampering, and one count of obstruction of justice.
In addition to paying the $3 million penalty, which is the statutory maximum fine for the six felony offenses, eBay will also be required to retain an independent corporate compliance monitor for three years and to make improvements to its compliance program. The Steiners are, meanwhile, privately suing eBay for damages, a lawsuit that is ongoing still.
"The company's conduct in 2019 was wrong and reprehensible," eBay CEO Jamie Iannone, who took over the biz in 2020, said in a statement on Thursday. "From the moment eBay first learned of the 2019 events, eBay cooperated fully and extensively with law enforcement authorities. We continue to extend our deepest apologies to the Steiners for what they endured."
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Beginning in August 2019, Jim Baugh, eBay's now-former senior director of safety and security, and six colleagues — David Harville, Philip Cooke, Brian Gilbert, Stephanie Popp, Veronica Zea, and Stephanie Stockwell — targeted the Steiners for their eBay coverage. All have since admitted their crimes.
The seven "worked together to harass and intimidate the Steiners, and to place them under surveillance with the intent to harass and intimidate them, through repeated and hostile Twitter messages, deliveries of unwanted — and in some instances disturbing — items to the Steiners' home, and travel to Massachusetts to conduct physical surveillance," according to prosecutors [PDF].
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These unwanted and disturbing items included a book on surviving the death of a spouse, porno subscriptions, a bloody pig mask, a fetal pig, a funeral wreath, and live spiders and cockroaches.
The ex-eBay staffers also traveled to Natick, Massachusetts, to surveil their victims and installed a GPS tracking device on their car, and posted an ad on Craigslist seeking sexual partners and providing the Steiners' home address.
After the Steiners called the cops, Baugh made false statements to the Natick Police Department and internal investigators. He and his team also deleted digital evidence related to the cyber-stalking campaign and falsified records.
Six of the crew have been sentenced for their roles in the crimes. In September, Baugh received nearly five years (57 months) in prison and Harville was sentenced to two years behind bars.
Popp got a year in the cooler, Cooke got 18 months in prison and 12 months of home confinement, while both Stockwell and Zea were each sentenced to one year of home confinement.
Gilbert is awaiting sentencing. ®