A bloody pig mask, spiders, and burner phones. These are just some of the dirty tricks allegedly used by six former eBay security officials in a harassment campaign against the publishers of a blog focused on the company.
According to federal prosecutors, the effort was led by James Baugh, eBay’s former senior director of safety & security, and David Harville, former director of global resiliency.
The month-long harassment campaign, outlined in charges on Monday in a Boston federal court, allegedly focused on a couple in Natick, Mass. who publish a blog called eCommerce Bytes. The campaign against Ina and David Steiner included everything from threatening Twitter messages and fake late-night pizza deliveries to packages of live insects and pornography.
In September, the company fired the two officials and four others also charged in the plot. The plan, according to prosecutors, was set in motion after eBay’s then-CEO Devin Wenig, who left the company suddenly in September, complained to his subordinates about the blog’s sometimes critical coverage. The company said on Monday that while Wenig did not authorize the harassment campaign, his “inappropriate communications” regarding the blog were among “a number of considerations leading to his departure from the company.”
Here are five of the most shocking allegations outlined by federal prosecutors:
“We are going to crush this lady”
The seemingly small blog was closely read by eBay’s top management from the CEO on down. When a member of Wenig’s executive team saw a story about Wenig’s salary in the blog last April, the person texted Wenig: “We are going to crush this lady.” A few days later, when a Wall Street Journal story annoyed Wenig, he texted back “Fuck them. The journal is next on the list after [the blog’s author].” And a few weeks later, another story on the blog prompted Wenig to text his subordinate: “Take her down.” That prompted the executive, who is not named in the complaint, to begin looking for ways to address Wenig’s complaints. In August 2019, after another negative story, Wenig texted: “If you are ever going to take her down…now is the time.” Wenig’s subordinate passed some of the messages on to Baugh.
Inspired by Hollywood
That month, Baugh is said to have begun holding meetings with other eBay security staff to craft a response to the blog. He showed his team a clip from the 1988 movie Johnny Be Good of characters harassing their football coach by sending pizzas, an elephant, a male stripper, and an exterminator. He also showed a segments of the movie Body of Lies in which a character creates a fake terrorist plot and a bit from Old School when a character turns up at a house and declares, “I’m here for the gang bang.”
A bloody pig mask and live spiders
At Baugh’s direction, other eBay employees began the harassment campaign using prepaid debit cards purchased at a local supermarket and burner cell phones to make online orders from anonymous email accounts over virtual private networking software to hide their tracks, prosecutors said. They first sent the couple a Halloween mask featuring a bloody pig face and a book titled Grief Diaries: Surviving the Loss of a Spouse. Then came packages containing fly larvae, live spiders, and cockroaches. The eBayers also sent a package of pornography to a neighbor but with the couples’ names.
Fake swingers party
Baugh eventually dispatched Harville to lead a trip with others to Boston, the court filing said. After sending a screenshot of top executives’ complaints about the blog, he wrote to Harville: “Once you read it delete this entire thread and DONT SAVE TO YOUR PHONE or we will all get fired.”
From Boston, the campaign escalated to sending expensive late night pizza delivery orders to the couples’ house to wake them with demands for cash. On August 18, the group posted on Craigslist that the couple was hosting a party, gave their home address, and wrote: “Come knock on the door/ring the doorbell anytime of day or night. block parties will start about 10 PM but will go late. Singles/couples swingers OK.” Other fake online posts said the couple were selling all their possessions, prompting strangers to show up at the house unannounced.
Covering their tracks
Baugh and others also allegedly created a false paper trail implicating the couple in harassing eBay executives. As local police detectives began uncovering the connection between the harassment and eBay officials, Baugh sent Brian Gilbert, a former police captain in Santa Clara, Calif. who was working on eBay’s security team, to meet with the police. Gilbert lied to police, according to the complaint, claiming eBay officials had no knowledge about the harassment campaign.
As the investigation grew, drawing in the FBI and eBay’s legal department, the involved officials began hiding evidence by deleting messages and social media accounts and erasing phones used in the campaign.
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