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Six former eBay employees have been charged with a bizarre stalking campaign against an e-commerce newsletter. The Department of Justice alleges that James Baugh, David Harville, Stephanie Popp, Brian Gilbert, Stephanie Stockwell, and Veronica Zea viciously harassed the couple who published the newsletter for their negative eBay coverage — sending them online threats and abuse, mailing live insects and a “bloody pig face” mask, and driving to their Massachusetts home to surveil them. The plan was allegedly hatched after eBay’s CEO objected to the newsletter editor’s coverage and told another executive to “take her down.”
Several of the employees charged were in upper-level positions with eBay: Baugh was eBay’s global security and resiliency director, Harville was director of global resiliency, Popp was senior manager of global intelligence, and Gilbert was a former police captain who handled security and safety at eBay’s North American offices. According to an affidavit, the team was attempting to stifle negative coverage from the newsletter, as well as insults from an anonymous commenter.
The group hatched a plan to intimidate the newsletter’s editor and her husband (who served as its publisher) starting in mid-2019. They created anonymous Twitter accounts to send insults and threats to the Massachusetts couple, then escalated this into in-person harassment. That included shipping the pig mask, a box of cockroaches, another box of fly larvae and live spiders, pornography, a book on “surviving the loss of a spouse,” a sympathy wreath from a local florist, and a “preserved fetal pig” — although the pig fetus was apparently never delivered.
The team also allegedly spied on the couple to find evidence that they were collaborating with the troll commenter, at one point planning to break into their garage and install a tracking device on their car. (They were stopped by police, who then connected them to eBay.) They even planned a strategy where eBay would officially “help” the couple investigate the harassment to gain their goodwill, a plot Baugh apparently compared to the Ridley Scott film Body of Lies.
eBay’s leadership supposedly didn’t know about the the harassment campaign until being notified by law enforcement in August 2019. The company posted a statement saying that it terminated all the employees involved in September. “eBay does not tolerate this kind of behavior. eBay apologizes to the affected individuals and is sorry that they were subjected to this,” the statement reads. “eBay holds its employees to high standards of conduct and ethics and will continue to take appropriate action to ensure these standards are followed.”
But according to the affidavit, at least two executives had encouraged attacks on the newsletter. eBay confirmed to The Verge that one was eBay’s then-CEO Devin Wenig. Texts show Wenig communicating with a second unnamed executive about the newsletter’s editor, saying that “I couldn’t care less what she says,” and seconds later adding, “take her down.” He repeated the comment in another message: “If you are ever going to take her down… now is the time.”
The second, unnamed executive had a consulting firm draw up a plan for “reducing impact” from the newsletter through methods like search engine optimization, but they also got in touch with Baugh, who offered a “plan B” from his team. “[Wenig] said to burn her to the ground correct?” said Baugh. “She is biased troll who needs to get BURNED DOWN,” responded the executive. The executive then promised to “embrace managing any bad fallout” from the unspecified plan. “We need to STOP her,” they continued.
eBay admitted that Wenig made “inappropriate” comments about the newsletter, although “there was no evidence that he knew in advance about or authorized the actions that were later directed toward the blogger and her husband.” Its public statement hints that the fallout may have played a role in Wenig’s decision to leave the company that September — saying that “there were a number of considerations leading to his departure.”