Federal prosecutors on Monday charged six former eBay employees with cyberstalking, alleging the defendants attempted to "stifle" a couple who published an online newsletter about e-commerce companies that was sometimes critical of eBay.
According to a Justice Department affidavit, the former eBay employees used all sorts of tactics to try to silence the couple. They sent crude objects, such as a fetal pig, and flew to the couple's hometown in an effort to plant a GPS tracker on their car. The defendants also operated several fake Twitter accounts that sent a barrage of nasty messages.
"Among other things, several of the defendants ordered anonymous and disturbing deliveries to the victims' home, including a preserved fetal pig, a bloody pig Halloween mask, a funeral wreath, a book on surviving the loss of a spouse and pornography – the last of these addressed to the newsletter's publisher but sent to his neighbors' homes," the Department of Justice said Monday.
Defendants also posted on Craigslist that the couple were looking for sexual partners, according to the Justice Department's criminal complaint.
The Justice Department charged James Baugh, eBay's former senior director of safety and security, and David Harville, eBay's former director of global resiliency, with conspiracy to commit cyberstalking and conspiracy to tamper with witnesses.
"In addition the following defendants were charged in an Information unsealed today: Stephanie Popp, 32, of San Jose, eBay's former Senior Manager of Global Intelligence; Stephanie Stockwell, 26, of Redwood City, Calif., the former manager of eBay's Global Intelligence Center (GIC); Veronica Zea, 26, of San Jose, a former eBay contractor who worked as an intelligence analyst in the GIC; and Brian Gilbert, 51, of San Jose, a former Senior Manager of Special Operations for eBay's Global Security Team," the Department of Justice said.
"They are each charged with conspiracy to commit cyberstalking and conspiracy to tamper with witnesses and will make appearances in federal court in Boston at a later date."
The Justice Department affidavit mentions two members of eBay's leadership team who wanted the newsletter shut down. They're referred to only as Executive 1 and Executive 2 in the complaint. Executive 1 told Executive 2 at one point to "take her down," referring to one of the victims, according to the filing.
According to the affidavit, the defendants began to hatch plans to quiet the authors of the newsletter, largely through intimidation. The defendants created a fake Twitter account named "@Tui_Elei" pretending to be an angry eBay seller.
Here's one of the messages the former execs sent to the owners of the newsletter on Twitter: "many familys includin mine make money 2 pay 4 food cloths and rent by selling on ebay… UR stupid idiot comments r pushin buyers away from ebay and hurtin familys!! STOP IT NOW!! #ebay #ebayseller." At times, the account seemed to suggest that it was also behind the terrifying packages that were being sent.
"DO I HAVE UR ATTENTION NOW????" one Twitter message said, according to the affidavit.
The group also sent a box of cockroaches, in addition to the fetal pig, pornography and pig mask. Another time they were sent a box of fly larvae and live spiders, according to the affidavit.
Then the defendants decided to travel to the victim's hometown to follow them, according to the affidavit. Baugh and Harville, during one such trip, intended to installed a GPS device on the victims' car but found the car was locked in a garage, the affidavit says.
After the couple spotted one of the surveillance teams, the Natick Police Department (NPD) opened an investigation. The police connected Harville and Zea to eBay and eventually asked for assistance, according to the filing.
But the defendants were ready for that move, too.
"When Baugh, Harville, Gilbert, Popp, Stockwell, Zea, and others learned that the NPD was making inquiries, they interfered with the investigation, either lying to the NPD about eBay's involvement while pretending to offer the company's assistance with the harassment, lying to eBay's lawyers about their own involvement, or both," according to the filing.
When the local police began investigating, Gilbert sent a text outlining a plan for how they would cover their tracks, according to the affidavit: "'I'm going to push the idea that eBay is a massive company and have no interest in the [Victims]. The idea we would send s*** to their house is ridiculous."
"If I need to bring in and (sic) eBay attorney to talk to cops, I have that in my back pocket," Baugh said in one message to the other defendants published in the affidavit.
Ebay began investigating complaints from the Natick Police Department in August 2019, when it asked Harville to turn in his phone. "Want me to wipe it?" He asked Baugh.
"Don't do anything until we speak to an attorney," Baugh said. "Don't turn phone in either."
Harville eventually turned in his iPhone, but the FBI's forensic analysis found he had deleted all of his iMessages, web search results and contacts, according to the addidavit. On August 30, eBay placed Baugh, Harville and Popp on administration leave, the affidavit said.
EBay said it a statement that it terminated all involved employees in September 2019.
The investigation also looked into former CEO Devin Wenig, who left the company in September 2018. "What these charges allege is unconscionable," Wenig told The Wall Street Journal on Monday, denying involvement in the operation. EBay also said it found no indication of Wenig's involvement. Wenig did not respond to CNBC's request for comment.
"The internal investigation found that, while Mr. Wenig's communications were inappropriate, there was no evidence that he knew in advance about or authorized the actions that were later directed toward the blogger and her husband," eBay said. "However, as the Company previously announced, there were a number of considerations leading to his departure from the Company."
Wenig has been a member of the General Motors board of directors since 2018. He currently serves on the risks and cybersecurity committee for GM and is one of 11 board-recommended directors up for re-election at the company's annual meeting Tuesday.
"GM has a longstanding commitment to opposing harassment in any form," GM CEO Mary Barra said on a press call. "Other than that I don't have anything further to say."
Correction: This story was updated to reflect that eBay Executive 1 and Executive 2 had a discussion that said "take her down."