eBay Agrees to $3 Million Fine Due to Harassment of Massachusetts Couple
As part of a deferred prosecution agreement, eBay will pay $3 million in fines to dismiss criminal charges of harassment, which involved employees sending a Massachusetts couple threatening messages, as well as boxes with live spiders, cockroaches, and other sinister items.
In August 2019, eBay employees began targeting David and Ina Steiner, cofounders and editors of EcommerceBytes—a newsletter and blog that covers the ecommerce industry. These employees included members of the C-suite: David Harville, former director of global resiliency; Jim Baugh, former senior director of safety and security; and five other employees who were on eBay’s security team.
According to the lawsuit the Steiners filed, eBay’s leadership in August 2019 was “increasingly enraged” by what they thought was negative coverage of the company in the blog. eBay’s security staff, including Baugh, was tasked with stopping the negative coverage, allegedly at any cost.
The Steiners became the target of an intimidation campaign, with Ina Steiner receiving threatening messages on Twitter. The couple also received package deliveries that contained live spiders, cockroaches, a bloody pig mask, and a funeral wreath. David Steiner received a book on how to deal with grief when a spouse dies.
Baugh and other members of the security team flew from California, where eBay is headquartered, to Massachusetts and began stalking the Steiners. Other employees continued to stalk the couple online and posted their home address on websites like Craigslist, along with invitations for readers to visit the address for sex parties or yard sales at all hours. Ina Steiner also began receiving odd emails from senders that included an irritable bowel syndrome patient support group and the Communist Party of the United States.
In 2022, Baugh was sentenced to serve almost five years in prison for his involvement in the harassment campaign. Harville was given a two-year prison sentence.
Then-CEO Devin Wenig, who had told Baugh that he wanted Ina Steiner “taken down,” denied knowledge or involvement in the scheme and his lawyers said the message was misunderstood, with Wenig only intending for lawful actions against the couple. Wenig resigned in 2019.
The case against the larger company includes charges of stalking through interstate travel, stalking through electronic communications services, witness tampering, and obstruction of justice. The U.S. Department of Justice announced on 11 January that eBay entered into a deferred prosecution agreement. As part of the agreement, the company will admit to the relevant facts of the case and pay a maximum fine of $3 million.
Along with the monetary penalty, eBay must also retain an independent corporate compliance monitor for three years—the monitor is tasked with ensuring the company complies with the terms of the agreement and federal laws.
If eBay violates the agreement, the DOJ will resume prosecuting the company on the six felony charges.