Six former eBay employees arrested for alleged harassment campaign against journalists
The FBI announced charges against six former eBay employees on June 15, 2020, for their alleged participation in a campaign of harassment and intimidation against the editor and publisher of an online ecommerce news site.
David and Ina Steiner, who are married, have run the blog and newsletter ECommerceBytes for more than two decades out of their home in Natick, Massachusetts, the Wall Street Journal reported, focusing their coverage on online retailers, including Amazon, Craigslist and eBay.
The Steiners did not respond to emailed requests for comment.
According to a Department of Justice press release, an August 2019 article in the newsletter about litigation involving eBay allegedly spurred a conversation between two company executives “suggesting that it was time to ‘take down’ the newsletter’s editor.”
The FBI alleges that one of those executives and five other eBay employees then executed a harassment campaign against the Steiners.
“Among other things, several of the defendants ordered anonymous and disturbing deliveries to the victims’ home, including a preserved fetal pig, a bloody pig Halloween mask, a funeral wreath, a book on surviving the loss of a spouse, and pornography — the last of these addressed to the newsletter’s publisher but sent to his neighbors’ homes,” the press release stated.
The employees also allegedly sent the pair threatening public and private messages on Twitter, stalked the victims and attempted to install a GPS tracking device on their car. The plan was then for the eBay security team to reach out to the couple about the harassment and offer support in what an FBI affidavit referred to as a “White Knight Strategy.”
Joseph Bonavolonta, the FBI special agent in charge of the case, told NBC News, "All the while, they were hiding behind the internet, using burner phones and laptops, overseas email accounts, and prepaid debit cards purchased with cash, to try and cover up their alleged crimes and evade and obstruct the Natick Police Department.”
The six employees are each charged with conspiracy to commit cyberstalking and conspiracy to tamper with witnesses:
- James Baugh, 45, former senior director of safety and security;
- Brian Gilbert, 51, former senior manager of special operations for eBay’s Global Security Team;
- David Harville, 48, former director of global resiliency;
- Stephanie Popp, 32, former senior manager of global intelligence;
- Stephanie Stockwell, 26, former manager of eBay’s Global Intelligence Center; and
- Veronica Zea, 26, former intelligence analyst contractor in the GIC.
U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling told CBS Boston, “It was a determined, systematic effort of senior employees of a major company to destroy the lives of a couple in Natick, all because they published content company executives didn’t like.”
In a press release, eBay Inc. said that the company was unaware of the harassment campaign until notified by law enforcement in August 2019, and immediately launched an internal investigation. As a result of that investigation, it said, all involved employees were fired that September.
The statement said the company’s board formed an independent special committee to oversee the investigation. A statement from that committee said the company does not tolerate that type of behavior: “eBay apologizes to the affected individuals and is sorry that they were subjected to this.”
The Journal reported that the U.S. attorney’s office is still investigating whether the company targeted any other critics with similar harassment campaigns.