(Boston) Online retailer eBay will pay a $3 million fine to settle criminal charges related to a harassment campaign by employees who sent live spiders, cockroaches and other disturbing items to its home. ‘a couple from Massachusetts, according to court documents filed Thursday.
The Justice Department has accused eBay of criminal harassment, witness tampering and obstruction of justice. The collaborators were already prosecuted more than three years ago as part of a vast intimidation project against David and Ina Steiner. The couple produced an online newsletter called EcommerceBytes that upset eBay executives.
eBay has reached a deferred prosecution agreement that could result in charges against the California-based company being dismissed if it meets certain conditions, according to the US attorney’s office in Massachusetts.
“eBay engaged in absolutely horrific criminal conduct. “The company’s employees and contractors involved in this campaign put victims through hell in a petrifying campaign to silence their reporting and protect the eBay brand,” said Acting Massachusetts Attorney General , Josh Levy, in an emailed statement.
The Associated Press sent an email to eBay on Thursday seeking comment on the filing.
The Steiners, publishers and editors of the newsletter, also sued the e-commerce giant in federal court, describing how cyberstalking and disruptive deliveries of packages sent anonymously upended their lives.
Ina Steiner received harassing and sometimes threatening Twitter messages and dozens of strange emails from groups including an irritable bowel syndrome patient support group and the Communist Party USA.
Along with a box of live spiders and cockroaches, the couple found a funeral wreath, a bloody pig mask and a book on surviving the loss of a spouse on their doorstep. Their home addresses were also posted online with ads inviting strangers to garage sales and parties.
The harassment began in 2019 after Ina Steiner wrote an article about an eBay lawsuit accusing Amazon of poaching its sellers, according to court documents.
Half an hour after the article was published, eBay’s then-CEO Devin Wenig sent a message to another top executive saying, “If you ever want to stop him from doing harm…this is the moment,” according to court documents. The executive sent Mr. Wenig’s message to James Baugh, who was eBay’s senior director of safety and security, and called Ina Steiner “a biased troll who needs to be burned.”
Mr. Baugh was among seven former employees who ultimately pleaded guilty to charges in the case. He was sentenced in 2022 to almost five years in prison. Another former executive, David Harville, was sentenced to two years in prison.
Mr. Wenig, who resigned as CEO in 2019, has not been criminally charged in the matter and has denied knowledge of the harassment campaign or ever telling anyone about do anything illegal. In the civil case, his lawyers said the quote “preventing him from harm” was taken out of context and it should naturally be inferred that he was referring to “legal action” and not ” a series of bizarre criminal acts.”