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eBay employees harassed blogger couple by sending cockroaches, pig mask etc, put up their names on Craigslist as sex workers, company agrees to pay $3 million penalty

"The company's employees and contractors involved in this campaign put the victims through pure hell, in a petrifying campaign aimed at silencing their reporting and protecting the eBay brand," acting U.S. Attorney Joshua Levy said.

EBay has agreed to pay a $3 million criminal fine after employees harassed a blogger couple for their coverage of the company, including sending them live cockroaches and a foetal pig, a bloody pig mask, live insects and a book on surviving the death of a spouse. The victims were David and Ina Steiner, a married couple from Natick, Massachusetts, who publishes the newsletter EcommerceBytes and had sued eBay for what they claim is a relentless campaign by eBay employees to “terrorise” them. 

eBay has settled into a deferred prosecution deal after being charged with two counts of stalking through interstate travel, two counts of stalking through electronic communications services, one act of witness tampering, and one count of obstruction of justice. According to the deal, eBay consented to a comprehensive recitation of all pertinent facts concerning its conduct and agreed to pay a $3 million criminal penalty, which is the statutory maximum amount for these six criminal offences.

Ina Steiner and David Steiner (Image source: Boston Globe/Getty Images)

Moreover, eBay will be compelled to keep an independent corporate compliance monitor for three years and to significantly enhance its compliance program.

“The company’s employees and contractors involved in this campaign put the victims through pure hell, in a petrifying campaign aimed at silencing their reporting and protecting the eBay brand,” acting U.S. Attorney Joshua Levy said.

The newsletter’s publisher and editor, the Steiners, have also filed a federal lawsuit against the e-commerce giant, alleging how cyberstalking and distressing deliveries of anonymously supplied goods affected their lives.

Ina Steiner received unsettling and occasionally threatening tweets, as well as dozens of weird emails from organisations such as an IBS patient support organisation and the Communist Party of the United States.

Alongside a box with live spiders and cockroaches, the couple received a funeral wreath, a bloody pig mask, and a book “Grief Diaries” about surviving the loss of a spouse. Their home address was also advertised online, along with invitations to yard sales and parties.

A grief-themed book and a bloody pig mask sent to Steiners by eBay employees (Image source: US Justice Department website)

“Take her down”, eBay chief executive told another official referring to Ina Steiner

The harassment began in 2019 after Ina Steiner published a piece about a lawsuit filed by eBay that accused Amazon of poaching its sellers.

According to prosecutors, top executives considered the Steiners’ newsletter to be critical of eBay, and in August 2019, then-Chief Executive Devin Wenig told another executive that it was time to “take her down,” referring to Ina Steiner.

Notably, Wenig, who stepped down as CEO of eBay in September 2019, was not charged, and his spokesperson stated that Wenig had “absolutely zero knowledge” of the actions taken by eBay employees.

According to the US Department of Justice, “between approximately August 5, 2019, and Aug. 23, 2019, Jim Baugh, eBay’s former Senior Director of Safety and Security, and six other members of eBay’s security team targeted the victims for their roles in publishing a newsletter that reported on issues of interest to eBay sellers. Senior executives at eBay were frustrated with the newsletter’s tone and content, and with the comments posted beneath the newsletter’s articles. The harassment campaign arose from communications between those executives and Baugh.”

eBay employees put up names of Steiners on Craiglist for sexual activities

eBay’s Baugh, a former CIA operative along with accomplices ran a vicious harassment campaign “intended to intimidate the victims and change the content of the newsletter’s reporting.” Shockingly, other than sending live insects etc, the eBay employees made Craigslist posts inviting the public for sexual encounters at the residence of the victim couple.

Jim Baugh (Image source: Reuters)

eBay employees gave false statements to police, attempted to mislead the investigators

The victims noticed the surveillance squad and alerted local authorities. Upon learning of the investigation by the Natick Police Department, Baugh lied to both police and internal investigators. He and his accomplices deleted digital evidence associated with the cyberstalking campaign and fabricated documents to divert the attention of the investigating authorities.

eBay CEO apologises to Steiners for harassment campaign by its employees

In a statement issued on 11th January, eBay’s present CEO Jamie Lanone apologised for the wrongdoing of its employees in the past and said that “the company’s conduct in 2019 was wrong and reprehensible.” Lanone further apologised to the victim couple and said, “We continue to extend our deepest apologies to the Steiners for what they endured. Since these events occurred, new leaders have joined the company and eBay has strengthened its policies, procedures, controls and training. eBay remains committed to upholding high standards of conduct and ethics and to making things right with the Steiners.”

Notably, eBay’s former Senior Director of Safety and Security Jim Baugh was sentenced to 57 months in jail in September 2022. Others in the case have been sentenced to house confinement to two years in prison.

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