A group of eBay executives targeted and allegedly terrorized a middle-aged couple for months because they were angry over critical articles the pair wrote in a newsletter, federal prosecutors said Monday.
As part of the harassment, the six eBay employees allegedly sent the couple disturbing packages, harassed them online, and broke into their garage to install a GPS device on their car.
When police began to look into the claims of harassment of the Natick, Massachusetts, couple, US Attorney Andrew Lelling said, the now-former eBay employees then tried to derail the criminal investigation and, at one point, began to compile a list of people to possibly frame for the crimes.
"eBay executives were not merely unhappy with the couple's coverage — they were enraged," Lelling said at a press conference on Monday. "The result, as alleged in the complaint, is a systematic campaign fueled by the resources of a Fortune 500 company to emotionally and psychologically terrorize this middle-aged couple in Natick with the goal of deterring them from writing bad things online about eBay."
As part of the intimidation campaign, the eBay staff allegedly sent the couple, who were not named by prosecutors, a mask of a bloody pig's face, live cockroaches, a book about how to deal with a spouse's death, and pornography that was delivered to a neighbor's home, but in the couple's name.
"This was a determined, systematic effort by senior employees of a major company to destroy the lives of a couple," Lelling said.
On Monday, the US Attorney's office in Massachusetts unveiled a 68-page complaint against James Baugh, former senior director of safety and security; David Harville, former director of global resiliency; Stephanie Popp, former senior manager of global intelligence; Stephanie Stockwell, former manager of eBay's global intelligence center; Veronica Zea, former intelligence analyst who worked as a contractor; and Brian Gilbert, former senior manager of special operations for eBay's global security team and former captain at the Santa Clara police department.
They were all charged with conspiracy to commit cyberstalking and conspiracy to tamper with witnesses.
In a statement, eBay said it was first notified by law enforcement about the investigation in August 2019, but did not make any public comments about it because of the ongoing nature of the investigation.
"eBay took these allegations very seriously from the outset," the company said in a statement. "Upon learning of them, eBay moved quickly to investigate thoroughly and take appropriate action. The Company cooperated fully and extensively with law enforcement authorities throughout the process."
As a result, the company said it fired all of the employees who were involved, including an unnamed former chief communications officer, in September 2019.
"eBay does not tolerate this kind of behavior," the statement read. "eBay apologizes to the affected individuals and is sorry that they were subjected to this."
An internal investigation into the company also found eBay's then-CEO Devin Wenig conducted "inappropriate" communications regarding the couple who were allegedly harassed by the employees, but that "there was no evidence that he knew in advance about or authorized the actions that were later directed toward the blogger and her husband."
eBay announced Wenig was leaving the company in September, at the same time the company also said it was moving forward with the sale of assets. In a statement, the company said, "there were a number of considerations leading to [Wenig's] departure from the Company."
Federal prosecutors allege the harassment of the couple began in earnest in August 2019, when the couple published an article about a lawsuit involving the company,
But executives at the company had long been upset about the articles published in the newsletter. According to the complaint, one unnamed executive in April 2019 sent a text after being forwarded a copy of the newsletter and an article in the Wall Street Journal: "Fuck them," it read. "The journal is next on the list after [Victim 1]."
The same executive, after reading another newsletter, texted a colleague in the leadership team, "Take her down."
The harassment that ensued included sending weird and troubling packages to the couple's home, sometimes to be delivered in the middle of the night.
Afterward, the employees allegedly set up fake Twitter and email accounts to harass the couple online, criticize their newsletter a,nd, at times, threaten to visit them at their home.
According to prosecutors, Baugh, Gilbert, and Popp planned to make the messages more threatening over time and to ultimately dox the couple.
After a mask of a bloody pig face was delivered to the couple's home, for example, the couple received a direct message on Twitter that read, "DO I HAVE YOUR ATTENTION NOW."
The former employees also wrote Craigslist ads inviting "singles, couples, and swingers" to parties at the couple's home after 10 p.m. every night, encouraging people to "knock on their house, day or night."
By August 2019, Harville and Zea allegedly traveled to the Boston area with plans to surveil the couple at their home.
The two had registered for a business conference to explain the trip to the company, officials said. Instead, they broke into the victims' garage and installed a GPS device — something that the two had allegedly practiced in the parking lot of eBay's corporate headquarters.
The two executives were worried they would be stopped by local police while following the couple, officials said, and carried false documents to claim that they were investigating the couple for threatening eBay executives just in case they were questioned by authorities.
Eventually, the victims discovered they were being followed and contacted local police, who reached out to eBay after discovering one of the vehicles was rented by Zea.
When police reached out to eBay, the defendants lied to officers, and to eBay's internal lawyers, about their real involvement in the harassment campaign, officials said.
Baugh, Gilbert, Popp, and Stockwell also allegedly discussed giving police a list of fabricated "persons of interest" to frame other people in California.
Once the scheme was discovered, US Attorney Lelling said, eBay was "extremely cooperative with the investigation in helping state and federal authorities figure out what happened."
If convicted, the former eBay employees could face up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.