#Harassment! eBay to pay $3 million after employees sent fetal pig, funeral wreath to Boston couple

Online retailer eBay Inc. on Thursday agreed to pay a $3 million penalty to settle criminal charges after several employees stalked and harassed a Boston couple who run a website critiquing the company.

The resolution comes after several employees at the online auction company terrorized the couple  Ina and David Steiner  for months after they published criticisms of the company on their e-commerce news site EcommerceBytes. Authorities said the employees' harassment campaign included mailing disturbing items to the Steiners' home, including a fetal pig, a bloody pig mask, live insects, a book on surviving the death of a spouse and a funeral wreath.

The co-conspirators also used Craigslist to invite strangers to the couple's home for sexual encounters. And they also sent private and public threats to the couple on social media and threatened to visit them at their home, according to authorities.

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

“eBay engaged in absolutely horrific, criminal conduct," Levy added.

What did eBay do?

eBay was criminally charged with stalking through interstate travel, stalking through electronic communications, witness tampering, and obstruction of justice, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Massachusetts.

The company ultimately entered a deferred prosecution agreement following the charges. That means prosecutors would not move forward in the criminal case in exchange for eBay meeting certain requirements.

As part of the agreement, eBay admitted to a prosecutor's recitation of facts about the company's conduct and agreed to pay a $3 million criminal penalty, which is the maximum fine for the six offenses. eBay is also required to hire an independent corporate compliance monitor for three years and to make "extensive enhancements" to its compliance program.

Authorities said the harassment began in 2019 after the Steiners wrote material that eBay officials saw as negative toward the company. The Department of Justice said that because of those articles, Jim Baugh, then eBay's senior director of safety and security, and six other security team members began a harassment campaign against the Natick couple.

"We left no stone unturned in our mission to hold accountable every individual who turned the victims’ world upside-down through a never-ending nightmare of menacing and criminal acts," Levy said. "The investigation led to felony convictions for seven individuals, all former eBay employees or contractors, and the ringleader was sentenced to 57 months in federal prison.”

A criminal investigation into the harassment campaign began after the victims spotted a surveillance team following them.

Baugh and other members of the conspiracy lied to police and deleted evidence, as well as falsified records, in an attempt to mislead police.

All seven who participated in the harassment have been convicted. Baugh was sentenced to 57 months in prison in September 2022.

David Harvill, director of global resiliency, was sentenced that month to two years in prison; Stephanie Popp, a senior manager of global intelligence, was sentenced in October 2022 to one year in prison; Philip Cook, a senior manager for security operations, was sentenced in July 2021 to 18 months in prison and 12 months of home confinement; Stephanie Stockwell and Veronica Zea, who also worked in the intelligence division, were each sentenced to one year of home confinement in October 2022 and November 2022, respectively.

The final member of the conspiracy, Brian Gilbert, a former senior manager of security operations, has pleaded guilty and is awaiting sentencing.

"Today’s settlement holds eBay criminally and financially responsible for emotionally, psychologically, and physically terrorizing the publishers of an online newsletter out of fear that bad publicity would adversely impact their Fortune 500 company," said Jodi Cohen, special agent in charge of the FBI's Boston Division, in a statement. "It also puts in place some much-needed checks and balances to ensure an overhaul of eBay’s corporate culture by requiring it to implement a revamped compliance and ethics program designed to prevent the recurrence of the appalling conduct we uncovered in this case."

"eBay's actions against us had a damaging and permanent impact"

On Thursday, the Steiners released a statement on their EcommerceBytes website.

"In 2022, we were crushed when we learned the government had not interviewed the top executives at eBay as part of its criminal investigation," the statement reads "As victims of despicable crimes meant to destroy our lives and our livelihood, we felt it was vital to do everything in our power to make sure such a thing never happened to anyone else."

"eBay's actions against us had a damaging and permanent impact on us  emotionally, psychologically, physically, reputationally and financially  and we strongly pushed federal prosecutors for further indictments to deter corporate executives and board members from creating a culture where stalking and harassment is tolerated or encouraged," their statement continues.

The Steiners started their website in 1999 and gave a voice to those who may have been wronged by eBay, and the company did not like that, according to their statement. Since the harassment came to light, several people told the Steiners they were afraid of retaliation if they made their complaints public.

"We were targeted because we gave eBay sellers a voice and because we reported facts that top executives didn't like publicly laid bare," the Steiners said in their statement.

A pending civil lawsuit

Although the agreement settles the criminal case, the Steiners have filed a civil lawsuit against eBay and the co-conspirators, which remains open in federal court.

James Iannone, eBay's CEO since April 2020, rebuked the company's behavior.

“The company’s conduct in 2019 was wrong and reprehensible,” Iannone said in a statement. “From the moment eBay first learned of the 2019 events, eBay cooperated fully and extensively with law enforcement authorities. 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."

Iannone added: "eBay remains committed to upholding high standards of conduct and ethics and to making things right with the Steiners.”

The Steiners' attorney in the civil case, Rosemary Scapicchio, could not be reached for comment. The trial in the civil case is scheduled for May 2025, with the Steiners saying they will pursue the case until the end.

"After today's announcement, we remain determined to push for answers and do whatever we possibly can to ensure that no corporation ever feels that the option exists for them to squash a person's First Amendment rights," the Steiners' statement reads. "It's that important."