Six former eBay employees were charged with cyberstalking a couple behind a newsletter that executives saw as “critical” of the company, the US Department of Justice said in a Monday release. The employees allegedly harassed the Massachusetts couple by sending threatening messages, a box of live cockroaches and a bloody pig mask, among other things.
eBay’s former Senior Director of Safety and Security James Baugh and former Director of Global Resiliency David Harville were arrested and charged by with conspiracy to commit cyberstalking and conspiracy to tamper with witnesses, the Justice Department said.
Other defendants who were charged include Stephanie Popp, eBay’s former senior manager of global intelligence; Stephanie Stockwell, former manager of eBay’s global intelligence center (GIC); Veronica Zea, a former eBay contractor who worked as an intelligence analyst in the GIC; and Brian Gilbert, former senior manager of special operations for eBay’s global security team. They’re each charged with conspiracy to commit cyberstalking and conspiracy to tamper with witnesses. They are expected to appear in federal court in Boston at a later date.
The cyberstalking victims were a couple that serve as editor and publisher of an online newsletter covering e-commerce companies, according to the charging documents. In August 2019, after the newsletter included an article about litigation involving eBay, two company executives allegedly “sent or forwarded text messages suggesting that it was time to ‘take down’ the newsletter’s editor,” the Justice Department says.
The six former employees as well as others allegedly embarked on a “three-part harassment campaign” that included sending a preserved fetal pig, a bloody pig Halloween mask, a funeral wreath and a book on surviving the loss of a spouse to the newsletter’s publisher.
The second phase included sending private Twitter messages and public tweets criticizing the newsletter and threatening to visit the couple, the Justice Department says. The third phase allegedly involved surveilling the victims in their home and community.
In a statement, eBay said law enforcement notified the company last August about “suspicious actions by its security personnel toward a blogger, who writes about the company, and her husband.” eBay launched an investigation with the help of outside legal counsel and eventually fired the employees, including its former chief communications officer, in September.
“eBay took these allegations very seriously from the outset,” an independent special committee created by the company’s board of directors to oversee the investigation said in the statement. “eBay does not tolerate this kind of behavior. eBay apologizes to the affected individuals and is sorry that they were subjected to this. eBay holds its employees to high standards of conduct and ethics and will continue to take appropriate action to ensure these standards are followed.”
The internal investigation also looked into whether the company’s CEO at the time, Devin Wenig, played any role in the incident. “While Mr. Wenig’s communications were inappropriate, there was no evidence that he knew in advance about or authorized the actions that were later directed toward the blogger and her husband,” eBay said.
The company also said it didn’t previously share information about the matter “in order to preserve the integrity of the government’s investigation.”
The defendants, after learning about the investigation, allegedly attempted to interfere by lying to police about the company’s involvement and pretending to offer eBay’s assistance. They also allegedly lied to eBay’s lawyers about their involvement.
Charges for conspiracy to commit cyberstalking and conspiracy to tamper with witnesses each have a sentence of up to five years in prison, three years of supervised release, a fine of up to $250,000 and restitution. A federal district court judge must impose sentences.
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