An unfortunate reality of journalism is that, while anyone in the industry for long enough has gotten their share of death threats, some coverage—reporting on white supremacists, taking photos in a war zone, exposing deep-pocketed oil companies—simply tends to be more emotionally, physically, financially dangerous to pursue. Not to be outdone by the other various bastards of the world, a handful of former eBay workers have now been charged with an elaborate harassment campaign against the husband-and-wife team behind a newsletter they simply didn’t like.
The two-part campaign against the newsletter writers allegedly involved both lashing out anonymously towards the couple via a variety of increasingly unhinged methods; then, as eBay itself, staffers provided help for the issues these same errant employees had caused, in an apparent attempt to generate goodwill towards the company, according to federal authorities.
Beyond threats, the couple were also sent items meant to intimidate them, such as “a box of live cockroaches, a funeral wreath and a bloody pig mask,” according to the Department of Justice, as well as porn, a preserved pig fetus, and a book on “surviving the loss of a spouse.” Eventually, these now-fired workers decided to surveil the couple outside their home, and two of them allegedly “intending at one point to break into the victims’ garage and install a GPS tracking device on their car.” They also had created and were carrying a fake document to show police, in the event they were stopped, which claimed the couple were persons of interest in an investigation into threats against eBay executives, the DoJ claimed.
According to the allegations, eBay top brass were determined to “take down” the newsletter and its writer, over its coverage of a lawsuit eBay filed against Amazon, alleging it had engaged in racketeering. The suit was widely covered by news outlets large and small, and while there are no clues in the DoJ’s press briefing on why this couple was targeted specifically, the allegations note that comapny execs often took (emphasis ours) “issue with its content and the anonymous comments underneath the editor’s stories.”
At least in part, it seems eBay employees engaged in an extended and elaborate harassment campaign because of a website’s commentariat.
Other than a single contractor, Veronica Zea, all of those charged held lofty titles within the company, which formerly were:
- James Baugh, Senior Director of Safety & Security
- David Harville, Director of Global Resiliency
- Stephanie Popp, Senior Manager of Global Intelligence
- Stephanie Stockwell, manager of eBay’s Global Intelligence Center
- Brian Gilbert, Senior Manager of Special Operations for eBay’s Global Security Team
According to WBZ in Boston, the charges also include two executives more senior than Baugh, though at present they remain unnamed. Prior to his time at eBay, Gilbert was a police captain.
“Brian Gilbert received a service retirement from the City of Santa Clara on May 4, 2018. A review of his HR personnel file does not show any prior disciplinary action,” the Santa Clara Police Department told Gizmodo. “However, his actions noted in the federal complaint raises concerns about his past performance as an employee of the police department. We will be conducting an internal review to ensure that his behavior as an employee was lawful and consistent with the expectations we have for all our employees.”
Once suspicions emerged about who was potentially behind this cyberstalking scheme, the former eBay workers lied to police and their own lawyers, destroyed evidence, and plotted to create new suspects to mislead law enforcement officials working the case, according to the allegations.
“eBay was notified by law enforcement in August 2019 of suspicious actions by its security personnel toward a blogger, who writes about the Company, and her husband,” the company wrote in a blog post today. “As a result of the investigation, eBay terminated all involved employees, including the Company’s former Chief Communications Officer, in September 2019.” (The company’s CCO at the time was Steve Wymer, though it’s currently not clear if he is one of the two unnamed executives also charged.) “eBay holds its employees to high standards of conduct and ethics and will continue to take appropriate action to ensure these standards are followed,” the company wrote.
Former CEO Devin Wenig, who, incidentally, also left eBay in September of 2019, was cleared during the company’s own internal investigation. “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,” the company wrote, citing “a number of considerations leading to his departure” from eBay. It’s similarly unclear if Wenig remains a suspect, or an unnamed charged party in this upsetting and convoluted bit of corporate vigilantism.
Updated with comment from SCPD