According to court documents submitted on Thursday, online retailer eBay Inc. will pay a $3 million fine to settle criminal charges related to a harassment campaign carried out by staff members who sent live spiders, cockroaches, and other unsettling items to the home of a Massachusetts couple.
The Justice Department sued eBay for stalking, witness tampering, and obstruction of justice over three years after the employees were prosecuted in the broad plan to intimidate David and Ina Steiner. The pair created the web newsletter EcommerceBytes, whose coverage infuriated eBay management.
According to Acting US Attorney Joshua S. Levy, eBay participated in heinous criminal behavior. He continued by saying that the victims were subjected to an agonizing campaign by the company’s workers and contractors in an attempt to stop them from reporting and preserving the reputation of eBay.
Prosecutors claim that the “tone and content” of the newsletter and the public comments placed beneath its articles infuriated senior executives at eBay. Baugh’s conversations with those executives initiated the campaign against the marriage.
The seven workers who carried out the vicious campaign of intimidation against a couple residing in Natick, Massachusetts, have already been found guilty of felonies.
According to the Justice Department, the ringleader got the harshest punishment, 57 months in federal prison.
According to court documents, Ina’s August 2019 article on an eBay complaint accusing Amazon of stealing its sellers was the story that allegedly started the harassment.
Ina Steiner got dozens of weird emails from organizations like the Communist Party of the United States and an IBS patient support group, in addition to annoying and occasionally threatening tweets.
The couple had a funeral wreath, a gory pig mask, and a book about surviving the death of a spouse arrive at their door along with a box of real spiders and cockroaches. Additionally, announcements inviting people to yard sales and parties were put online along with their house addresses.
According to the documents, Baugh and his friends also put a GPS tracking device in the couple’s car and posted advertisements on Craigslist asking people to have sex at their house.
Shortly after the incident, eBay fired the employees in question.
Philip Cooke, an employee, received an 18-month prison sentence in 2021. Baugh received a roughly five-year sentence the following year.
Baugh’s lawyers alleged he faced pressure from former eBay CEO Devin Wenig to bring down the Steiners over their coverage of the company.
The settlement holds e-Bay criminally and financially liable for, psychologically, emotionally, and physically terrorizing the publishers of a newsletter on the internet out of fear that negative publicity would negatively impact their Fortune 500 company, according to Jodi Cohen, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Boston Division.
Prosecutors claimed that the seven co-conspirators destroyed digital evidence and fabricated documents as soon as they became aware of the police investigation into the harassment campaign.
Prosecutors stated that Baugh, the scheme’s architect, once persuaded Harville to accompany him to Boston so they could spy on the Steiners. Prosecutors stated that Baugh, Harville, and another eBay employee arrived at the couple’s house to place a GPS tracker on their vehicle.
Prosecutors alleged that after discovering the garage locked, Harville went shopping for tools to break in.
eBay CEO’s Statement
Jamie Iannone, the CEO of eBay, described the company’s actions in 2019 as “wrong and reprehensible.”
In a statement, Iannone claimed that eBay has reinforced its policies, procedures, controls, and training and that new leaders have joined the firm in response to these incidents. Iannone went on to say that eBay was still dedicated to keeping the highest moral and ethical standards and resolving any issues with the Steiners.