By ALANNA DURKIN RICHER Associated Press
BOSTON (AP) — A former eBay Inc. executive was sentenced Thursday to nearly five years in prison for leading a scheme to terrorize the creators of an online newsletter that included sending live spiders, cockroaches, a funeral wreath and more. disturbing deliveries to your home.
David Steiner, who along with his wife was targeted in the harassment campaign, told the court that eBay’s former senior director of safety and security, James Baugh, and other eBay employees made their lives “hell”. use it as a model to go after journalists in the future.
“This was a bizarre and premeditated assault on our lives … involving the highest levels of eBay,” Steiner told the judge.
Another former eBay executive, David Harville, was later sentenced Thursday to two years behind bars for his role in the scheme targeting David and Ina Steiner, the editor and reporter who angered executives with coverage of the company in his newsletter, eCommerceBytes.
Baugh and Harville, eBay’s former director of global resilience, are among seven former employees who have pleaded guilty to charges in the case.
Court records from the case show how top eBay executives were infuriated by Steiner’s newsletter and readers who posted comments critical of the company on his site, which eBay deemed a threat to its business.
The plan was born in August 2019 after Ina Steiner wrote a story about a lawsuit filed by eBay accusing Amazon of poaching its sellers. Half an hour after the article was published, then-CEO Devin Wenig sent another top eBay executive a message that said, “If you’re ever going to tear it down…now is the time,” according to court documents. That exec forwarded Wenig’s message to Baugh and called Ina Steiner a “partial troll that needs to be BURNED.”
Soon, Ina Steiner began receiving harassing and sometimes threatening Twitter messages. Strange anonymous packages began arriving at the couple’s home, including a box of live spiders, a funeral wreath and a book on surviving the loss of a spouse. Ina Steiner began receiving dozens of bizarre emails from groups including a support group for patients with irritable bowel syndrome and the Communist Party USA, authorities say.
Authorities portrayed Baugh as the mastermind behind the scheme, saying he ordered eBay employees to use prepaid debit cards, disguises and overseas email accounts to hide the company’s involvement.
Baugh then recruited Harville to come with him to Boston to spy on the couple, authorities say. Baugh, Harville and another eBay employee went to the couple’s home hoping to install a GPS tracker in their car, but the garage was locked, so Harville bought tools with a plan to break in, prosecutors say.
Harville’s attorneys said he was not involved in or aware of any threatening messages or deliveries sent by his colleagues.
Prosecutors said in court documents that although Harville was not at the initial meetings about the scheme, “he was aware enough of the harassment when he was in Boston to joke with Baugh about handing over a bag of human feces, a working chainsaw, and a rat” to his porch.
Baugh’s attorneys said their client had faced “intense and unrelenting pressure” from executives, including Wenig, to do something with the Steiners. They described Baugh as a “tool” that eBay used and then discarded when “an army of outside lawyers arrived.” to conduct an ‘internal investigation’ aimed at saving the company and its top executives from prosecution”.
Wenig, who stepped down as CEO in 2019, was not criminally charged in the case but faces a civil lawsuit from the couple. He has denied any knowledge of the harassment campaign. In court papers, her lawyers have said the “bring her down” quote was taken out of context and that the “natural inference” is that it refers to taking “legal action, such as a public rebuttal,” not “a series of bizarre actions.” “. criminal acts.”
“At this point, an independent investigation has said that Mr. Wenig had no knowledge and prosecutors in the case have made it clear that Baugh was responsible. Devin never told anyone that he did anything unethical or illegal and if he had known, he would have stopped him,” a spokesperson for Wenig said in an email.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Seth Kosto accused Baugh of trying to deflect blame, saying no one above him at eBay “told him to anonymously threaten, harass and stalk the Steiners.”
The Steiners say the terror campaign robbed them of their sense of security and caused devastating consequences for their business and finances.
“What eBay did to us, the accused and other accomplices, both accused and unindicted, has changed me forever and I don’t think the old David is coming back,” said David Steiner.
Both Baugh and Harville apologized to the Steiners for their actions before their sentences were handed down. Baugh told the Steiners that he hopes they will forgive him one day.
“I take 100% responsibility for this and there is no excuse for what I have done,” Baugh said. “The bottom line is simply this: If I had done the right thing and been strong enough to make the right decision, we wouldn’t be here today, and I’m so sorry.”
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