On Thursday, September 29, two former eBay executives were sentenced to prison time and incurred substantial fines as a result of being criminally convicted of stalking and harassing a couple in Massachusetts who edited and distributed a newsletter with articles viewed as critical of the company.
Between August and September 2019, eBay’s Former Senior Director of Safety & Security James Baugh and former Director of Global Resiliency David Harville, as well as a group of co-conspirators, enacted a harassment campaign against Ina and David Steiner, editors of EcommerceBytes, a website that publishes articles tailored for online product sellers.
EcommerceBytes had published articles that were critical of eBay in the past, and the company was aware of their commentary.
However, in August 2019, Ina Steiner published an article regarding eBay’s lawsuit against Amazon for supposedly poaching their users. Internal communications within eBay indicate that this article brought the Steiners and EcommerceBytes under heightened scrutiny by executives. This may have been due to increased pressure on senior executives after the partial sale of eBay to Elliott Management, a hedge fund notorious for dismantling the administrative structures and procedures of companies after acquisition.
Baugh and Harville’s campaign against the Steiners, executed over the course of a month, included a litany of acts ranging from trolling, such as delivering threatening messages to the couple on Twitter and posting disparaging public Tweets about EcommerceBytes; to real-life dangers, like sending packages containing live insects or dead animals to the couple’s house, and posting their address on Craigslist with solicitations for sex acts to be performed by strangers at the couple’s home.
The two men, along with one of their subordinates acting as a co-conspirator, also traveled to Massachusetts with the intent to break into the couple’s garage and install a GPS tracking device on their car.
The Steiners, fearing for their own safety, had alerted the local police prior to their arrival. Baugh and Harville were spotted by the authorities while attempting to follow the Steiners as they drove through town.
During the ensuing investigation, Baugh disposed of critical digital evidence and submitted false records to the police.
Baugh and Harville were arrested and charged in June 2020. The subsequent court battle deemed them guilty of numerous crimes, including conspiracy to commit stalking through interstate travel and through facilities of interstate commerce, stalking through interstate travel, stalking through facilities of interstate commerce, witness tampering, and destruction, alteration, and falsification of records in a federal investigation.
What now remains to be seen is the fate of then-CEO Devin Wenig, who is accused of sending messages to top executives at the company regarding the content of the newsletter, including a message from Wenig to a subordinate instructing them to “Take [Ina Steiner] down.”
Wenig’s attorneys argued that his messages were taken out of context and that he clearly did not mean them to inspire a campaign of unhinged harassment.
Conversely, during his defense, Baugh’s lawyers argued that internal pressure from Wenig is what led him to engage in drastic and dangerous retaliation against the couple. Lawyers for the defense had requested transcripts of interviews with Wenig and former senior vice president Wendy Jones, the latter of whom was Baugh’s direct supervisor at the time.
An independent investigation deemed Wenig and Jones were unaware of the full extent of Baugh and Harville’s actions. Additionally, Assistant U.S. Attorney Seth Kosto, who prosecuted the case, accused Baugh of attempting to deflect blame from his own actions onto his superiors. However, Wenig still faces a civil lawsuit filed by the Steiners.