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Blogger couple were ‘sent live spiders’ after criticising eBay

The US Attorney’s Office has launched an investigation into whether eBay targeted any other critics with disturbing harassment campaigns after a couple who ran an e-commerce newsletter revealed last week how they were allegedly stalked and sent bizarre deliveries by workers at the company.

Prosecutors revealed an indictment against six former eBay employees last week for threatening David and Ina Steiner, the founders of ECommerceBytes.com and reportedly sending them packages containing live spiders and cockroaches, a bloody pig mask and a funeral wreath.

Massachusetts US Attorney Andrew Lelling said the purported harassment campaign was spurred because executives at the company were enraged by critical coverage eBay had received on the Steiners’ website.

‘This was a determined, systematic effort by senior employees of a major company to destroy the lives of a couple in Natick all because they published content that company executives didn’t like,’ Lelling said last week.

And now his office is working to determine if any other critics of the e-commerce giant fell victim to similar schemes, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Prosecutors revealed an indictment against six former eBay employees, among them high-level executives, last week for threatening David and Ina Steiner (above), the founders of ECommerceBytes.com, and sending them unsettling deliveries, which included live spiders and cockroaches, a bloody pig mask and a funeral wreath.

The alleged cyberstalking campaign was launched soon after Devin Wenig (above), eBay¿s chief executive at the time, and his chief communications officer, Steve Wymer, embarked on a more aggressive public-relations strategy that included challenging critics such as ECommerceBytes

The alleged cyberstalking campaign was launched soon after Devin Wenig (above), eBay’s chief executive at the time, and his chief communications officer, Steve Wymer, embarked on a more aggressive public-relations strategy that included challenging critics such as ECommerceBytes

The pig's head the couple received in the mail in shown above in a photograph taken by the Massachusetts DA's Office

The pig’s head the couple received in the mail in shown above in a photograph taken by the Massachusetts DA’s Office

For the Steiners, the outlined harassment first began in August 2020, when the couple say they started to receive a number of threatening emails and tweets.

Shortly afterwards, federal prosecutors say the couple then received a package delivered to their front door which contained a mask of a bloody pig’s head, which was followed by the delivery of a funeral reef.

The strange packages continued to arrive over the period of several weeks, with the content of each growing increasingly bizarre. Fly larvae, spiders, roaches and a self-help book about coping with the loss of a spouse were also received by the couple.

After the bloody pig mask was delivered, Ina received a message on Twitter saying: ‘DO I HAVE UR ATTENTION NOW????,’ court documents show.

According to federal prosecutors, the defendants had pornography addressed to the victims sent to their next-door neighbors’ house, and took out an ad on Craigslist inviting ‘singles, couples and swingers’ to come over to the newsletter publisher’s home to party each night.

The couple also noticed strange cars following them around their small town of Natick, Massachusetts. They reported the incidents to police, who initially ruled them off as elaborate pranks.

However, after the Steiners photographed one of the suspicious vehicles tailing them, the police were able to track the license plate back to a rental car booked out under the name of Veronica Zea, who was staying at the Boston Ritz-Carlton hotel, along with a man named David Harville.

As they continued to investigate, police later found that both Zea and Harville worked for eBay, based more than 3,000 miles away in San Jose, California. eBay was a also frequent featuree on the Steiners’ website, ECommerceBytes.

The police department’s discovery prompted a criminal investigation into an alleged harassment campaign said to have been ordered by some within eBay’s executive ranks.

The strange packages continued to arrive over the period of several weeks, with the content of each growing increasingly bizarre. Fly larvae, spiders, roaches and a self-help book about coping with the loss of a spouse were also received by the couple (above)

The strange packages continued to arrive over the period of several weeks, with the content of each growing increasingly bizarre. Fly larvae, spiders, roaches and a self-help book about coping with the loss of a spouse were also received by the couple (above)

United States District Attorney for Massachusetts Andrew E. Lelling (2-L) announces charges of conspiracy to commit cyberstalking and witness tampering against six ex-eBay executives

United States District Attorney for Massachusetts Andrew E. Lelling (2-L) announces charges of conspiracy to commit cyberstalking and witness tampering against six ex-eBay executives

During his announcement Monday, Lelling levelled charges against James Baugh, 45, of San Jose, California, eBay’s senior director of safety & security, and David Harville, 48, of New York City, eBay’s director of global resiliency.

Both of the men were charged with conspiracy to commit cyberstalking and conspiracy to commit witness tampering, according to a press release from the US Department of Justice.

The remaining four employees charged are identified in court documents as Stephanie Popp, 32, of San Jose, eBay’s former senior manager of global intelligence; Brian Gilbert, 51, of San Jose, a former senior manager of special operations for eBay’s global security team; Stephanie Stockwell, 26, of Redwood City, California, former manager of eBay’s Global Intelligence Center, and Veronica Zea, 26, of San Jose, a former eBay contractor who worked as an intelligence analyst.

They are each charged with conspiracy to commit cyberstalking and conspiracy to tamper with witnesses.

Court documents detail how two members of the company’s executive leadership team orchestrated a three-part plot to go after the middle-aged couple after their newsletter published an article about litigation involving eBay.

The alleged cyberstalking campaign was launched soon after Devin Wenig, eBay’s chief executive at the time, and his chief communications officer, Steve Wymer, embarked on a more aggressive public-relations strategy that included challenging critics such as ECommerceBytes, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Wenig and Wymer were said to be determined to prove that rival company Amazon was helping to fund the Steiners’ site, and therefore essentially paying them to publish negative statements about eBay.

The two executives failed to yield any evidence to support the theory, by Wenig’s wife, Cindy Lee Horowitz, complained to eBay’s security team about the tone of ECommerceBytes’ reader comments about her husband, claiming than an unknown man had also shown up at their house because of them.

Steven Wymer, eBay's PR chief for nine months in 2019, reportedly texted Wenig about the plot

Steven Wymer, eBay’s PR chief for nine months in 2019, reportedly texted Wenig about the plot

Wenig and Wymer were said to be determined to prove that rival company Amazon was helping to fund the Steiners¿ site, and therefore paying them to publish negative statements about eBay (Ina Steiner pictured with Jeff Bezos, May 2011)

Wenig and Wymer were said to be determined to prove that rival company Amazon was helping to fund the Steiners’ site, and therefore paying them to publish negative statements about eBay (Ina Steiner pictured with Jeff Bezos, May 2011)

As part of the second phase of the campaign, some of the defendants allegedly sent private Twitter messages and public tweets criticizing the newsletter¿s content and threatening to visit the victims in Natick

As part of the second phase of the campaign, some of the defendants allegedly sent private Twitter messages and public tweets criticizing the newsletter’s content and threatening to visit the victims in Natick

Former employees who worked with Wenig claim he was obsessive about what her perceived to be negative coverage of the company, often reacting forcefully or being ‘easily set off’ by any unfavorable posts.

Court documents show text changes between the former CEO and Wymer, in which Wenig expresses concern about some of the Steiners’ coverage.

After a May 31, 2019, post on EcommerceBytes in which the site analysed Wenig’s remarks at a shareholder meeting, the CEO texted Wymer telling him, ‘I couldn’t care less what she says,’ in reference to Ina Steiner, the editor of the website. ‘Take her down’.

That message followed on from an exchange the pair shared in April 2019, regarding a short article about Wenig’s compensation written by Ina Steiner, titled ‘eBay CEO Devin Wenig Earns 152 Times That of Employees.’

Though the Steiners’ website was obscure, it did have a significant following among eBay sellers, who often left snarky or personal comments about Wenig or other executives.

In the article about Wenig’s salary, one commentor wrote: ‘What a foolish Board. What an overpaid empty suit. What a joke.’

Wymer then texted Wenig, reassuring him that they would ‘crush this lady’ for publishing the piece. 

By the summer of 2019, James Baugh, then eBay¿s director of safety and security, was drawing up the blueprints for an alleged campaign to silence the Steiners, prosecutors say

By the summer of 2019, James Baugh, then eBay’s director of safety and security, was drawing up the blueprints for an alleged campaign to silence the Steiners, prosecutors say

Though the Steiners website was obscure, it did have a significant following among eBay sellers, who often left snarky or personal comments about Wenig or other executives

Though the Steiners website was obscure, it did have a significant following among eBay sellers, who often left snarky or personal comments about Wenig or other executives

By the summer of 2019, James Baugh, then eBay’s director of safety and security, was drawing up the blueprints for an alleged campaign to silence the Steiners, prosecutors say. 

Baugh’s inspiration for the campaign was said to be drawn from the movie Johnny Be Good, a 1988 sports comedy in which friends arranged a series of ‘unwanted and distracting items and people’ delivered to their football coach’s home, including an elephant and a male stripper.

He showed his team a clip from the film during a meeting and allegedly said he wanted something similar to happen to the Steiners during the first wave of his campaign, prosecutors say.

A later text exchange from July 2019 shows a conversation between Wenig and Wymer, after ECommerceBytes published several more negative stories about eBay.

‘If you are ever going to take her down, now is the time,’ Wenig texted Wymer, who responded, ‘On it.’

Baugh¿s inspiration for the campaign was said to be drawn from the movie Johnny Be Good, a 1988 sports comedy in which friends arranged a series of 'unwanted and distracting items and people' delivered to their football coach¿s home, including an elephant and a male stripper

Baugh’s inspiration for the campaign was said to be drawn from the movie Johnny Be Good, a 1988 sports comedy in which friends arranged a series of ‘unwanted and distracting items and people’ delivered to their football coach’s home, including an elephant and a male stripper

Wymer then forward the message to Baugh, adding: ‘She is biased troll who needs to get BURNED DOWN.’

‘Copy that,’ Baugh replied. ‘I have a plan B. I will put it in motion.’

Wymer then assured Baugh that he would ‘manage any bad fall out’, insisting ‘we just need to STOP her.’ 

As part of the second phase of the campaign, some of the defendants allegedly sent private Twitter messages and public tweets criticizing the newsletter’s content and threatening to visit the victims in Natick.

In one instance, the masterminds of the bizarre vendetta also ordered a preserved pig fetus to be delivered to their victims, but it was never sent to the Natick couple because the seller began making inquiries about the order.

Court documents allege that Baugh, Gilbert, Popp and another eBay security employee planned these messages to become increasingly disturbing, culminating with ‘doxxing’ the victims by publishing their home address online.

It is alleged that the eBay staffers intended then to have Gilbert, a former Santa Clara police captain, approach the victims with an offer to help stop the harassment in a ‘white-knight strategy’ – an effort to promote good will towards eBay and generate more favorable coverage in the newsletter.

The third phase of the twisted plot allegedly involved secretly surveilling the victims in their home.

Wymer then forward the message to Baugh, adding: ¿She is biased troll who needs to get BURNED DOWN.¿

Wymer then forward the message to Baugh, adding: ‘She is biased troll who needs to get BURNED DOWN.’

¿Copy that,¿ Baugh replied. ¿I have a plan B. I will put it in motion'

‘Copy that,’ Baugh replied. ‘I have a plan B. I will put it in motion’

According to the complaint, in August 2019, Baugh, Harville, Zea and later Popp drove to the victims’ home in Natick several times. The plan was to break into the couple’s garage and install a GPS device on their car.

‘As protection in the event they were stopped by local police, Baugh and Harville allegedly carried false documents purporting to show that they were investigating the victims as “Persons of Interest” who had threatened eBay executives,’ according to court documents.

In meetings, Baugh reportedly told his team that the campaign had to be kept confidential, but said the scheme was supported by executive management.

Ina Steiner soon began receiving emails and newsletters for things she hadn’t subscribed to, such as ‘Cat Faeries’ and ‘the Satanic Temple’. Abusive messages continued to roll in from Twitter too, with one threatening, ‘I guess im goin to have to get ur attention another way bitch…’

Once the police connected the activity back to eBay, the individuals involved are said to have attempted to cover their tracks.

The defendants allegedly sought to interfere with the investigation by lying to the police about eBay’s involvement while pretending to offer the company’s assistance with the harassment, as well as by lying to eBay’s lawyers about their involvement.

At one point, Baugh, Gilbert, Popp, and Stockwell allegedly plotted to fabricate another eBay ‘Person of Interest’ document that could be offered to the police as a lead on some of the harassing deliveries.

Once the police connected the activity back to eBay, the individuals involved are said to have attempted to cover their tracks.

Once the police connected the activity back to eBay, the individuals involved are said to have attempted to cover their tracks.

In a statement last week, eBay apologized to the victims of the harassment, adding that the company 'holds its employees to high standards of conduct and ethics and will continue to take appropriate action to ensure these standards are followed

In a statement last week, eBay apologized to the victims of the harassment, adding that the company ‘holds its employees to high standards of conduct and ethics and will continue to take appropriate action to ensure these standards are followed

As the police and eBay’s lawyers continued to look into the allegations, the defendants allegedly deleted their WhatsApp and phone data under the instructions of Baugh, further obstructing what had by then become a federal investigation.

An internal investigation was launched after eBay was notified by law enforcement in August 2019 of ‘suspicious actions by its security personnel,’ company officials wrote in a prepared statement. The employees were fired in September, the company said. The company’s then-CEO Devin Wenig stepped down in September.

Wenig said at the time that he was stepping down over differences with the board of directors. He received $57 million in severance.

The company said that the internal investigation found that, while 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.

Wenig doubled-down on the finding in an interview with the WSJ this week, insisting he didn’t order any type of harassment of the Steiners, nor was he aware of the security team’s efforts.

He said he was enjoying a month-long sabbatical in Italy at the time the alleged activity took place last August. He said he wasn’t made aware of what happened into the details were disclosed publicly by the DA’s office last week.

‘It’s totally embarrassing, and it’s just ridiculous,’ he told the Journal. ‘It’s so not the culture of the company.’

Wymer added that he would ‘never condone or participate in any such activity’.

In a statement last week, eBay apologized to the victims of the harassment, adding that the company ‘holds its employees to high standards of conduct and ethics and will continue to take appropriate action to ensure these standards are followed.

The six former eBay workers charged in the case could each face up to 10 years if convicted of conspiracy to commit cyberstalking and tamper with witnesses.

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk


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