The headlines about pig’s blood and cockroaches might have grabbed your attention yesterday over the scandal emerging from the usually staid e-commerce giant eBay. Federal prosecutors in Boston charged six former employees, including the former head of corporate security, with criminal cyberstalking and witness tampering after an almost year-long investigation into their effort to destroy the lives of a journalist and her husband. But one person who skated shouldn’t escape this ugly spotlight: eBay’s former CEO Devin Wenig.
It was Wenig’s obsession with the couple’s small news site covering eBay that led to the entire mess. In repeated communications with his staff, Wenig complained about the coverage on the site and began to get more specific, though never too specific, about his desires for what should happen to it: “Take her down,” and “if you are ever going to take her down now is the time,” are among the hot takes he texted to one of his direct reports. That person, who was not identified by prosecutors, reached out to the head of security and passed on Wenig’s angry missives, setting in motion a crazy, harebrained and (now allegedly) illegal harassment campaign.
The conspirators bought burner phones and prepaid debit cards with cash, set up anonymous email and Twitter accounts, and used a VPN to try and hide their tracks. They mailed the couple all manner of disturbing things, including a mask of a bloody pig face and boxes of live cockroaches and spiders, while sending them threatening messages over Twitter. Then they traveled to Boston, spied on the couple, and started posting dangerously false meet-ups on Craigslist using the couple’s address. When the couple complained to police and reported the license plate number of one of the eBay harassers’ rental cars, the group concocted false paper trails, tried to delete their texts, and lied to detectives.
Wenig now says he knew nothing about all that. “As confirmed by the company, following a thorough, independent investigation, I did not direct or know anything about the acts that have been charged in Boston,” Wenig said in a statement to the Financial Times. “I have spent my career defending press freedoms. What these charges allege is unconscionable.”
The company on Monday apologized to the couple and said that while Wenig’s “communications were inappropriate, there was no evidence that he knew in advance about or authorized the actions” described in the complaint. Still, the matter was among “a number of considerations” leading to Wenig’s departure in September of last year, the company said. The former CEO was allowed to resign while keeping his annual compensation of $17 million, plus another $40 million negotiated as part of a severance package.
Prosecutors said the investigation remains ongoing and a civil lawsuit from the couple could be forthcoming. But as of today, it remains an unconscionable breach of leadership and moral standards that the $57 million man is getting off so easily.