The final of seven former eBay employees has pleaded guilty in connection with a bizarre harassment campaign pitted by employees of the online behemoth against a middle-aged couple in suburban Massachusetts – using everything from pornographic magazines to live insects and a bloody pig face mask.
David Harville, eBay’s former director of global resiliency, pleaded guilty on Thursday via video link at a Boston federal court hearing. He was indicted in 2020 on charges including conspiracy to commit stalking, witness tampering, and destruction, alteration and falsification of records in a federal investigation.
Another Ebay executive, James Baugh, pleaded guilty last month to similar charges. Five other employees or contractors – Philip Cooke, Brian Gilbert, Stephanie Popp, Veronica Zea and Stephanie Stockwell – had already pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit cyberstalking and conspiracy to tamper with witnesses by the time the Department of Justice announced the charges against the executives in November 2020.
The San Jose-based company previously said all seven had been fired.
The victims of their insidious and multi-faceted harassment campaign were Ira and David Steiner, of Natick – about 25 west of Boston – who publish the newsletter EcommerceBytes, which the employees perceived to be critical of eBay.
According to the 2020 DOJ release, the eBay team ”executed a three-part harassment campaign, which included the defendants sending anonymous and disturbing deliveries to the victims’ home; sending private Twitter messages and public tweets criticizing the newsletter’s content and threatening to visit the victims in Natick; and traveling to Natick to surveil the victims and install a GPS tracking device on their car.
The harassment campaign also included online posts inviting the public for sexual encounters at the Steiners’ home, in addition to sending live spiders, cockroaches and other horrifying deliveries.
The 2020 indictment alleged that “Baugh convened meetings to plan and coordinate the various parts of the harassment campaign; directed Harville to travel with him to Boston for an ‘op’ targeting the victims and their website; directed Stockwell to ‘make up’ allegations that the victims had made direct threats to eBay, the company’s CEO and its employees as cover in case the surveillance team was stopped.”
It also alleged that “Harville flew from California to Boston intending to place the victims under surveillance; attempted to install a GPS tracking device on the victims’ car; purchased tools intending to break in to the victims’ garage; lied to an eBay investigator who was responding to the Natick Police’s request for assistance; and deleted evidence from his company-issued cell phone after learning of the criminal investigation.”
The Steiners filed a lawsuit last July against eBay and several employees, including former CEO Devin Wenig, describing a conspiracy to “intimidate, threaten to kill, torture, terrorize, stalk and silence them” in order to “stifle their reporting on eBay”.
“When we were attacked, it was just terrifying,” Ina Steiner said after the filing at a press conference in Boston last summer. “We were attacked online, we were doxxed, we were sent intimidating packages, threats, intimidation. So, we were really very afraid and saw how it affected me and how it affected David.”
The parties had attempted private mediation over the past three months but were unable to hash out an agreement, the Boston Globe reported Wednesday, quoting a filing this week to US District Judge Douglas Woodlock in which the Steiners’ lawyer wrote that they had been “were unsuccessful in resolving this matter”.
The mediation failure paves the way for the lawsuit to proceed, potentially to trial.
Mr Wenig, the former CEO, who has not been criminally charged, has denied any knowledge of the harassment campaign, and his lawyers have asked that the Steiners’ claims against him be dismissed. He stepped down as CEO of eBay in 2019.
Baugh is scheduled for sentencing in September and Harville the following month; both could face years in prison. Of the other co-conspirators, Cooke was sentenced in July 2021 to 18 months in prison and the other four are awaiting sentencing, the DOJ said last month.