Online retailer eBay will incur a multi-million-dollar court-ordered payout to avoid further criminal prosecution after eBay employees terrorized a Massachusetts couple who published a critical newsletter of the company.
A court ruling handed down Thursday reported on by the Associated Press showed that eBay will pay $3 million dollars after employees in 2019 reportedly resorted to stalking and harassment of David and Ina Steiner who produced an online newsletter called ECommerceBytes. An eBay executive at the time described Ina Steiner and her reporting as a “biased troll who needs to get BURNED DOWN.”
“EBay engaged in absolutely horrific, criminal conduct. The company’s employees and contractors involved in this campaign put the victims through pure hell, in a petrifying campaign aimed at silencing their reporting and protecting the eBay brand,” acting Massachusetts U.S. Attorney Josh Levy said in an emailed statement to the Associated Press.
eBay employees reportedly sent the couple boxes of live spiders and cockroaches, a bloody pig mask, a funeral wreath and a book about coping with the loss of a spouse. In addition to this, the Steiner’s address was posted online with invitations for strangers to attend yard sales and parties and such. This was all in addition to somewhat less egregious tactics which included the Steiner receiving threatening messages and strange emails from random groups like an irritable bowel syndrome support group and the Communist Party of the United States.
Messages from eBay’s former CEO Devin Wenig and other leadership executives showed a coordinated campaign to harass the Steiners. For instance, about a half hour after the Steiners published an article about a lawsuit where eBay accused Amazon of stealing their vendors, court records showed that Wenig sent another eBay executive a message that said “If you are ever going to take her down … now is the time.” eBay leadership has since changed hands and new CEO Jamie Iannone said in a written statement that the company has taken steps to prevent such bizarre events in the future.
“Since these events occurred, new leaders have joined the company, and eBay has strengthened its policies, procedures, controls and training,” Iannone. “EBay remains committed to upholding high standards of conduct and ethics and to making things right with the Steiners.”
According to the Associated Press reporting, the court agreement reached Thursday imposed the maximum financial penalties possible in such a case and required an independent monitor to oversee company actions for three years to ensure compliance with federal law. Seven former employees pleaded guilty to criminal charges in relation to this case, including James Baugh, eBay’s senior director of safety and security at the time who was sentenced to five years in prison and David Harville, another former executive who was sentenced to two years.
The Steiners expressed disappointment that more executives were not criminally charged as they said the actions taken by eBay employees had a “damaging and permanent impact emotionally, psychologically, physically, reputationally, and financially.”
“We strongly pushed federal prosecutors for further indictments to deter corporate executives and board members from creating a culture where stalking and harassment is tolerated or encouraged,” the Steiners said.
The Steiners released a written statement on their website regarding the court ruling, a portion of which has been reproduced below:
“As victims of despicable crimes meant to destroy our lives and our livelihood, we felt it was vital to do everything in our power to make sure such a thing never happened to anyone else. eBay’s actions against us had a damaging and permanent impact on us – emotionally, psychologically, physically, reputationally, and financially – and we strongly pushed federal prosecutors for further indictments to deter corporate executives and board members from creating a culture where stalking and harassment is tolerated or encouraged.”
During sentencing of one of the eBay employees in 2022, Judge William G. Young said, “This is one of the most important cases upon which this Court has ever sat. This out-of-control group of which you were a central part is, if not stopped now and stopped completely, an extraordinary danger to our country. Make no doubt about it, the skills that you employed to go cyberstalking are an extreme danger, and when you put those skills to service of some large corporate entity with economic power to go after individuals and squash down their speech, we are all at risk. All of us.”