Two former eBay executives were sentenced to prison for bizarre cyberstalking, according to a DOJ press release. A total of seven former employees have pleaded guilty in the USA v Baugh case. The former Senior Director of Safety & Security at eBay, Inc. and the company's former Director of Global Resiliency were sentenced on Sept. 29 for their roles in the cyberstalking of Ina and David Steiner, whose publication EcommerceBytes was critical of eBay practices.
The harassment allegedly began in 2019 with cyberstalking, later escalating to in-person stalking. The couple filed a civil RICO lawsuit against the company "and others related to the conspiracy" in July of 2021. The executives were responsible for "a three-part harassment campaign" that was both threatening and disturbing. They effectively "weaponized eBay's security department" against the couple. According to the DOJ:
"The defendants and their co-conspirators executed a three-part harassment campaign intended to intimidate the victims and to influence their reporting about eBay. The campaign included sending anonymous and disturbing deliveries to the victims' home; sending private Twitter messages and public tweets criticizing the newsletter's content; threats to visit the victims in Natick; and traveling to Natick to surveil the victims and installing a GPS tracking device on their car.
James Baugh, 47, of San Jose, Calif., was sentenced by US District Court Judge Patti B. Saris to 57 months in prison and two years of supervised release. Baugh was also ordered to pay a fine of $40,000. David Harville, 50, of Las Vegas, Nev., was sentenced to two years in prison and two years of supervised release. Harville was also ordered to pay a fine of $20,000."
Among the items sent to the couple's home were boxes of live cockroaches and spiders, funeral wreaths, a bloody pig mask, and a book on how to survive the death of a spouse. Craigslist ads were placed indicating the Steiners were "claiming to be a married couple seeking sexual partners" at their home. The couple's address was doxxed and the co-conspirators often tweeted anonymously as if they were eBay merchants "who were unhappy with the couple's coverage in their newsletter." The anonymous comments apparently started with "merchants" more mildly asking why the couple was so critical of eBay when the company was providing a platform for income.
Ironically, a Twitter account under the name @unsuckEBAY/FidoMaster began to troll and expose the actions of eBay executives, much to their consternation. The account used the eBay logo but did not violate copyright laws because it was a parody account. CEO Devin Wenig sent many disgruntled emails asking Baugh to contact Twitter to get the account shut down. He "assigned the task to Baugh, with Chief Legal Counsel Marie Oh Huber and Communications Director Steve Wymer copied." Twitter refused to close the account, saying it didn't violate its policies.
At one point in August of 2019, Wymer sent an email to his colleagues indicating his utter vexation with the Twitter account, saying it was "dominant[ing the company's] social narrative." Texts between Baugh and Wenig also show Baugh using an alias to lure the account owner into divulging his identity in order to convince him to stop his posts.
Twitter Account Annoys eBay Execs/https://www.valueaddedresource.net/ebay-exec-emails-revealed-cyberstalking-case/
Text Messages Wenig/Baugh/https://www.valueaddedresource.net/ebay-exec-emails-revealed-cyberstalking-case/
Harassment of the Steiners Escalated to In-Person Visit
Baugh and Harville did not stop at cyberstalking. In 2019, Baugh and Harville and a co-conspirator actually traveled to the suburban town of Natick, where the Steiners live to "surveil the victims and install a GPS tracking device on the victim's car." The Steiners noticed the surveillance and called the police. It was later found that Harville allegedly purchased tools to break into their garage. Baugh and Harville lied to investigators and the local police and deleted digital evidence of their cyberstalking.
Rosemary Scapicchio Defends the Steiners
The Steiners were represented by Rosemary Scapicchio, founding partner of the Boston-based Scapicchio law firm. Scapicchio is known for her "fierce" client advocacy in criminal defense cases. The case is being fought in three courtrooms, according to reporting by the NY Times. Seven employees pleaded guilty to the crimes.
"In two of them, members of the eBay security team are being sentenced for stalking, witness tampering and other crimes. A total of seven former employees have pleaded guilty. The first perpetrator to appear before the judge said he was too drunk during his brief stint at eBay to understand what was going on. It worked: He got a lighter sentence.
In the final courtroom, something more complicated and far-reaching is happening. The Steiners are suing eBay, Mr. Wenig, who is no longer chief executive, and many others, saying the campaign against them was not the activity of a rogue team but something closer to official company policy."
Why Would eBay Executives Care About a Blogger?
The "company policy" was allegedly related to the fact that eBay was being "pressured by a hedge fund to perform." Executives at the company were worried about the damage being done by Ina Steiner's popular blog, EcommerceBytes. Her husband runs the business side of the publication.
Ina has written many articles critical of eBay, Amazon, Etsy, and other e-commerce consolidators. The publication was started more than 20 years ago and hosts comments from sellers and others that are often disparaging about eBay and other e-commerce sites. "The blog, with articles like "eBay CEO Devin Wenig, Earns 152 Times That of Employees" and "eBay Says New Shipping Screen Is Here to Stay," was widely read at the company's San Jose, Calif., headquarters."
Wenig was caught writing emails to Steve Wymer, the director of communications, indicating a wish to, at a minimum, shut down criticism from Ina and her blog. Wymer followed up with Baugh, who was eBay's top security executive. Wenig and Wymer both stated during the trial that their comments were "mischaracterized" or taken out of context.
Wenig left the company "without cause" and thus qualified for an "exit package of $40 million." He is now on the board of General Motors, where he is listed as having retired from eBay. Wenig was the "fifth-highest paid of the nonemployee directors in 2019," earning $317,308 for serving on the board. Wymer was fired for cause.
Andrew Lelling, the US attorney for the District of Massachusetts who handled the criminal case, said that he lacked incriminating evidence "to say they were knowledgeable and intentional participants in a criminal conspiracy." Comments from Lelling may explain why executives at a company would be intimidated by a woman writing a blog. Competition and public opinion matter in competitive industries. "The culture inside these companies is often very aggressive and confrontational and the competition between the companies is extremely intense and bare knuckles," Lelling said.
Baugh Hires Security Contractor to Launder Harassment Activity
According to the previously mentioned NY Times article, to help cover up their malicious activity, Baugh hired a security contractor named Progressive FORCE Concepts. The lawsuit shows that Progressive FORCE was paid by eBay. The hiring of the contractors allowed for an "expensing hole" for the activity—a hole which has now allegedly been closed by eBay. Baugh used to work for the government, where he often hired such contractors to do things with "arguably unlawful means" in service of a greater good. This was the kind of operation that Baugh set up by hiring Progressive FORCE at eBay to harass the Steiners. Philip Cooke, a retired police officer who worked for the security contractor, was the first to be sentenced. "I had empathy for all the wrong people," he told the court before his summer 2021 sentencing, meaning "my CEO, my boss, my teammates. A group of people got together and immorally and illegally rationalized and justified horrific behavior in order to please the boss."
Amy Burkart, a former prosecutor in the Boston U.S. attorney's Office who worked on the case, stated in the NY Times article that the scheme was "a real innovation for corporate crime." Burkart stated in a podcast with law firm Jones Day, "We saw this use of anonymous accounts, and purchasing of burner laptops and burner phones, and using prepaid cards to purchase the deliveries—techniques that we would have seen previously only in drug trafficking organizations or other kinds of criminal activity." A judge in the case called the actions of eBay executives "just nuts."
Ina Sends Message to Readers
In a special message to EcommerceBytes readers on Sept. 28, Ina spoke of her relative silence on the matter despite her openness about so many other issues. She said it has been difficult to refrain from addressing corporate responsibility, but because she was a "victim-witness," she wasn't able to comment. She spoke of how painful it was for her and her husband to realize they were victims in the case. Of her silence with her subscribers, she wrote: