Six former EBay employees could face several years in prison after allegedly carrying out a stomach-churning campaign of harassment against a blogger who wrote critical posts about the company.

Devin Wenig

Former EBay CEO Devin Wenig, although not charged, was linked to the case by the Wall Street Journal as the executive who started the harassment campaign with a menacing text about Ina Steinert, the blogger. The charges claim that in May 2019, an unnamed executive messaged a subordinate, “Take her down.”

According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office of Massachusetts, the harassment began in August after the author of ECommerceBytes posted an article about litigation involving EBay.

ECommerceBytes is a blog that provides news and guidance for small businesses and individual sellers on e-commerce platforms. Many of its readers sell on EBay, and the blog  serves as a forum for complaints and questions about the $10 billion-per-year company.

Wenig’s alleged “take her down” message was allegedly taken to heart by the six EBay employees who have been charged in the case. They are:

  • James Baugh, EBay’s 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, 26, a former EBay intelligence contractor; and 
  • Brian Gilbert, a former senior manager of special operations for firm’s Global Security Team. 

In response to Wenig’s message, the six EBay employees executed a three-part harassment campaign, according to the attorney’s office. Several of them ordered anonymous deliveries to the victims’ home, including a preserved fetal pig, a bloody pig Halloween mask, a funeral wreath and a book on surviving the loss of a spouse. Steinert, the editor of ECommerceBytes, and her husband were the couple alleged to have been targeted in the plot.

The accused harassers also sent pornography to the couple’s neighbors’ homes — with the victims’ names and address on the package, according to the charges.

In the second phase of the campaign, the EBay group is said to have set up Twitter accounts and sent public tweets criticizing ECommerceBytes and threatening to visit the Steinerts’ home. According to the charges, the messages were designed to grow increasingly threatening, and culminate with a public post containing the couples’ home address. This was all planned as a set-up, after which Gilbert, a former Santa Clara police captain, would approach the Steinerts and offer help on EBay’s behalf, all with the aim of cultivating good will and favorable blog posts about EBay on ECommerceBytes, the charges state.

The final phase involved defendants going to the couples’ home in Natick, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston, and spying on them, the charges state. At one point, the plan included breaking into the couples’ garage and attaching a GPS tracking device on their car, the charges state.

On the same day the attorney’s office announced the charges, EBay announced it had been aware of the issue since the investigation began and that it has been cooperating with investigators.

EBay stated that it immediately launched its own internal investigation with the help of outside legal counsel. It terminated all involved employees, including the company’s former chief communications officer, in September 2019, according to a company statement.

The company’s special investigation committee stated: “EBay does not tolerate this kind of behavior. EBay apologizes to the affected individuals and is sorry that they were subjected to this.” 

The firm looked into the role played by Wenig, whose departure was announced last September 25 as a change mutually agreed with the board. At the time, Wenig chalked it up to “disagreements” with the board, which the AIM Group interpreted as being primarily about strategy, particularly whether or not to divest of EBay’s classifieds titles.

But EBay had learned about the criminal investigation at least a month before announcing Wenig’s departure.

“While Mr. 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,” EBay wrote. “However, as the company previously announced, there were a number of considerations leading to his departure from the company.”

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