Upset with the newsletter’s coverage of eBay, the defendants set out to ruin the lives of the couple who ran the website. According to a Justice Department affidavit on June 15, the former eBay employees barraged the couple with threatening emails and sent disturbing deliveries, “including a box of live cockroaches, a funeral wreath and a bloody pig mask.”
Other deliveries included a book on how to survive the death of a spouse and pornographic magazines with the husband’s name sent to a neighbor’s house, added Massachusetts U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling in a news conference. The defendants also drove to the couple’s home to spy on them, even planning to break into the garage to install a GPS device on the couple’s car, and posted on Craigslist that the couple was looking for sexual partners, he added.
“This was a determined, systematic effort by senior employees of a major company to destroy the lives of a couple in Natick all because they published content that company executives didn’t like,” said Lelling.
The Department of Justice charged James Baugh, eBay’s former senior director of safety and security, and David Harville, eBay’s former director of global resiliency, with conspiracy to commit cyberstalking and conspiracy to tamper with witnesses.
The other former eBay employees charged were Stephanie Popp, former senior manager of global intelligence; Stephanie Stockwell, former manager of eBay’s global intelligence center (GIC); Veronica Zeak, a former eBay contractor who worked as an intelligence analyst at GIC; and Brian Gilbert, former senior manager of special operations for eBay’s global security team.
The stalking campaign started in the summer of 2019 after the newsletter published an article about a lawsuit involving eBay, wherein the e-commerce company accused Amazon of illegally conspiring to poach its sellers. According to prosecutors, members of eBay’s executive leadership team followed the newsletter, often taking issue with the content and anonymous reader comments, which maligned eBay executives as “liars” and “delusional.”
Court documents also detailed a conversation between two members of eBay’s leadership team, referred to only as Executive 1 and Executive 2. In one of the messages, Executive 1 told Executive 2 to “take her down” – referring to the editor – saying that “now is the time.” Executive 2 wrote back: “Let me ask you this. Do we need to shut her entire site down?”
After a few messages, Executive 1 commented: “She is [a] biased troll who needs to get BURNED DOWN.”
According to a report by the Associated Press, the person described as Executive 1 in court documents is Devin Wenig, who stepped down as eBay’s CEO last year. When asked to comment on the report, a person who answered at a phone number listed for Wenig said “we’re not interested,” before hanging up.
Lelling said that the investigation is active and ongoing, saying that the executives had roles above the defendants.
“I don’t think I would characterize the conduct as rogue, because as seen in the complaint, the directive to do something about this goes pretty high up the chain within eBay,” Lelling told reporters. He also added that the company cooperated with investigators.
The company said that it launched an internal investigation after being notified by law enforcement of “suspicious actions by its security personnel.” In a statement, eBay said that all of the employees involved were fired in September 2019.
Authorities said the defendants lied to both company lawyers and the police about their involvement in the cyberstalking campaign. Gilbert even reached out to the couple and offered his help to stop the harassment.
However, this was part of his plan to cover his tracks, according to the Justice Department affidavit. In a text, he said: “I’m going to push the idea that eBay is a massive company and have no interest in the [victims]. The idea we would send s*** to their house is ridiculous.” (Related: Vice admits Big Tech is a “great threat to journalism.”)
During this time, Wenig announced that he was stepping down over differences with the board of directors. The company did not clarify whether this incident played a role in his departure, saying that “there were a number of considerations leading to his departure.”
Wenig is currently a member of the General Motors board of directors, serving on the risks and cybersecurity committee and is up for reelection this week.
When asked to comment on the issue, GM CEO Mary Barra reiterated the company’s commitment to opposing harassment in any form.
“Other than that I don’t have anything further to say,” she added.
See more stories about twisted, but true, events at Twisted.news.