Six former eBay employees are charged with harassing a couple who had criticized the ecommerce company, sending them obscene messages and mailing them live insects and a Halloween mask featuring a bloody pig face.
The U.S. Attorney’s office for the District of Massachusetts has filed criminal charges, including conspiracy to commit cyberstalking and conspiracy to tamper with witnesses, against two former eBay executives: James Baugh, 45, eBay’s former senior director of safety and security, and David Harville, 48, the company’s former director of global resiliency. Four ex-eBay employees have also been charged.
According to court documents, top eBay executives became upset with negative coverage of the company in an e-commerce blog operated out of Natick, Massachusetts, and in anonymous comments that appeared under the blog’s stories. They became convinced that some of the anonymous commenters, which included parody accounts, were colluding with the husband-and-wife team who published the blog and texted about the need to “take her down” and “burn her to the ground.”
“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,” U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling told CBS Boston.
In a statement issued Monday, eBay apologized to the couple and noted that it fired the employees named in the complaint, including its former chief communications officer, in September 2019.
“The company cooperated fully and extensively with law enforcement authorities throughout the process,” the technology giant said. “eBay does not tolerate this kind of behavior. eBay apologizes to the affected individuals and is sorry that they were subjected to this.”
The statement also noted it had investigated and cleared Devin Wenig, the company’s CEO at the time, of involvement in the alleged scheme.
Prosecutors say Baugh came up with a plan to harass the bloggers and to overwhelm them with deliveries to their home, a tactic an affidavit says he learned from the 1988 movie “Johnny Be Good.”
In August of 2019, eBay employees allegedly sent shipments to the couple’s home that included the pig mask; live cockroaches, spiders and fly larvae; and a book about surviving the death of a spouse. A shipment of pornography, with one of the publisher’s names written on it, was also sent to the couple’s neighbors.
Baugh, Harville and others also stalked the couple in person, prosecutors claim. According to the affidavit, Baugh, Harville, and other eBay employees and contractors flew to Boston on the pretext of going to a software development conference. But instead of going to the conference, the employees allegedly tailed the couple as they drove. They also planned to break into their garage to install a GPS tracker on their car, which they did not carry out.
The operatives also allegedly created a Twitter account, Tui_Elei, that sent obscene and harassing messages to the blog’s publisher before publicly posting their home address — a harassment tactic known as “doxing.” In another tactic to harass and embarrass the couple, according to allegations in a court filing, several eBay employees created fake posts on Craigslist, including one that advertised a week-long block party at the their home address. Another listing was a personals post seeking “singles or other couples exploring threesomes, bdsm, cross dressing.” A third was an “Everything must go!” estate sale listing their address.
The couple called Natick police about the harassment, and officers were able to track one of the rental cars to an eBay contractor named Veronica Zea, who was later charged in the complaint. At that point, Baugh and Brian Gilbert, a 51-year-old former police captain then working as a senior manager for eBay’s global security team, allegedly lied to the police about not knowing Zea and prepared fake documents indicating eBay was investigating the victims.
At the same time, Gilbert also reached out to the couple to offer assistance with the harassment campaign to make it appear that eBay was on their side, the charging documents allege. They refer to this as the “White Knight Strategy.”
In addition to Baugh, Harville, and Gilbert, the feds also charged Stephanie Popp, 32, a former senior manager of global intelligence; Stephanie Stockwell, 26, the former manager of eBay’s Global Intelligence Center; and Zea, 26, a former eBay contractor who worked as an intelligence analyst.