Former eBay executives get jail time for bizarre harassment scheme

BOSTON (AP) — A former eBay Inc. executive was sentenced Thursday to nearly five years in prison for leading a scheme to terrorize the creators of an online newsletter that included sending live spiders, cockroaches, a funeral wreath and other disturbing deliveries to their homes.

David Steiner, who along with his wife was the target of the harassment campaign, told the court that former eBay senior director of safety and security James Baugh and other eBay employees had made their life “hell”. use it as a template for prosecuting journalists in the future.

“This was a bizarre, premeditated attack on our lives…with buy-in from the highest levels of eBay,” Steiner told the judge.

Another former eBay executive, David Harville, was sentenced later Thursday to two years behind bars for his role in the scheme targeting David and Ina Steiner, the publisher and journalist who angered executives with the cover of the company in their newsletter, eCommerceBytes.

Baugh and Harville, a former director of global resilience at eBay, are among seven former employees who have pleaded guilty to charges in the case.

Court records from the case show how top eBay executives became furious with Steiners’ newsletter and readers who posted comments criticizing the company on their site, which eBay viewed as a threat to its business.

The scheme hatched in August 2019 after Ina Steiner wrote about an eBay lawsuit accusing Amazon of poaching its sellers. Half an hour after the article was published, then-CEO Devin Wenig messaged another senior eBay executive saying, “If you ever want to take her down…it’s the moment,” according to court documents. This executive forwarded Wenig’s message to Baugh and called Ina Steiner a “biased troll who needs to GET BURNED.”

Soon, Ina Steiner began receiving harassing and sometimes threatening Twitter messages. Bizarre anonymous packages began arriving at the couple’s home, including a box of live spiders, a funeral wreath and a book on surviving the loss of a spouse. Ina Steiner began receiving dozens of strange emails from groups like an irritable bowel syndrome patient support group and the Communist Party of the United States, authorities said.

Authorities described Baugh as the mastermind of the scheme and said he ordered eBay employees to use prepaid debit cards, disguises, and overseas email accounts to hide the company’s involvement. ‘company.

Baugh then recruited Harville to accompany him to Boston to spy on the couple, authorities say. Baugh, Harville and another eBay employee drove to the couple’s home hoping to install a GPS tracker on their car, but the garage was locked, so Harville bought some tools with the intention of getting away with it. introduce there, according to prosecutors.

Harville’s attorneys said he had no involvement or knowledge of any threatening messages or deliveries sent by his colleagues.

Prosecutors said in court papers that although Harville did not participate in early meetings about the scheme, “he was sufficiently aware of the harassment by the time he was in Boston to joke with Baugh about delivering a bag of feces, a running chainsaw, and a rat” on their porch.

Baugh’s attorneys said their client faced “intense and relentless pressure” from executives – including Wenig – to do something about the Steiners. They described Baugh as a “tool” that was used by eBay and then abandoned when an “army of outside attorneys descended to conduct an ‘internal investigation’ aimed at saving the company and its top executives from lawsuits.

Wenig, who resigned as CEO in 2019, has not been criminally charged in the case but faces a civil lawsuit from the couple. He denied any knowledge of the harassment campaign. In court papers, his lawyers said the quote “take him down” was taken out of context and the “natural inference” was that he was referring to “legal action, such as a public rebuttal”, and not “to a series of bizarre things”. criminal acts. »

“At this point, an independent investigation has said Mr. Wenig was unaware and prosecutors handling the case have made it clear that Baugh was responsible. Devin never told anyone to do anything unethical or illegal and if he had known he would have stopped him,” a Wenig spokesperson said in a statement. E-mail.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Seth Kosto accused Baugh of trying to deflect blame, saying no one above him on eBay “told him to threaten, harass and stalk the Steiners anonymously.”

The Steiners say the terror campaign robbed them of their sense of security and caused devastating consequences for their business and finances.

“What eBay – the accused and other co-conspirators, indicted and unindicted – did to us changed me forever and I don’t think the old David is coming back,” said David Steiner.

Baugh and Harville both apologized to the Steiners for their actions before their sentences were handed down. Baugh told the Steiners he hopes they forgive him one day.

“I take full responsibility for this, and there is no excuse for what I did,” Baugh said. “The bottom line is simply this: If I had done the right thing and if I had been strong enough to make the right choice, we wouldn’t be here today, and for that, I’m so sorry. .”

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