Business

Former eBay execs get prison time for 'extreme' harassment campaign against couple

Two former eBay Inc security executives were sentenced to prison on Thursday for carrying out a campaign to harass and intimidate a Massachusetts couple through threats and disturbing home deliveries after their online newsletter drew the ire of the company's then-CEO.

Jim Baugh gets toughest sentence of almost 5 years for directing the scheme

An eBay sign and logo is seen in San Jose, Calif., in a 2016 file. The company has apologized to a Massachusetts couple targeted in a stalking and harassment campaign, but faces a lawsuit from them. (Josh Edelsen/AFP/Getty Images)

Two former eBay Inc security executives were sentenced to prison on Thursday for carrying out a campaign to harass and intimidate a Massachusetts couple through threats and disturbing home deliveries after their online newsletter drew the ire of the company's then-CEO.

Jim Baugh and David Harville were sentenced to 57 and 24 months in prison, respectively, for their roles in an extensive harassment campaign that involved sending the couple cockroaches, a funeral wreath and a bloody Halloween pig mask.

U.S. District Judge Patti Saris, who imposed the sentence during hearings in Boston, called it a "hard-to-imagine" scheme fuelled by a "toxic culture" at the Silicon Valley e-commerce company.

"It was extreme and outrageous," Saris said.

She ordered Baugh, eBay's former senior director of safety and security, and Harville, its former director of global resiliency, to also pay fines of $40,000 and $20,000 US, respectively, after pleading guilty to cyberstalking-related charges.

From Baugh's guilty plea in April:

In court, they each apologized to David and Ina Steiner, a married couple in Natick, Mass., who produce the newsletter EcommerceBytes and spoke of being relentlessly terrorized by eBay's employees.

"As agents of eBay, they made our lives a living hell," David Steiner told the judge.

Lurid allegations

Prosecutors said senior executives deemed the newsletter critical of eBay and a threat to its business, and in August 2019 then-Chief Executive Officer Devin Wenig texted another executive that it was time to "take her down," referring to Ina Steiner.

Wenig, a former Thomson Reuters executive who stepped down as eBay's CEO in September 2019, was not charged, though seven other people were. A spokesperson said Wenig had "absolutely zero knowledge" of the actions they undertook.

Then-eBay CEO Devin Wenig is shown at a conference in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 8, 2018. It was reported that Wenig was upset over comments in the couple's newsletter, but he has denied any involvement in the campaign directed at them. (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

Overseeing the campaign was Baugh, a former Central Intelligence Agency employee who, according to his lawyer, felt pressure to do something.

At Baugh's direction, the Steiners received anonymous, harassing Twitter messages, bizarre emails, and unwanted home deliveries like spiders and a book on surviving the loss of a spouse, prosecutors said.

It was also alleged that pornographic magazines with the husband's name on it were sent to a neighbour's house, and a Craigslist ad posted inviting interested parties to sexual encounters at the victims' home.

Civil case outstanding

Prosecutors said other eBay employees involved included Harville, who Baugh recruited with a contractor for an "op" to surveil the Steiners and to try unsuccessfully to install a GPS tracker on their car.

EBay apologized to the Steiners last year.

"The misconduct of these former employees was wrong, and we will do what is fair and appropriate to try to address what the Steiners went through," the company said. "The events from 2019 should never have happened, and as eBay expressed to the Steiners, we are very sorry for what they endured."

The couple have sued the company and Wenig, among others, with the Boston Globe reporting in the spring that attempts to settle the lawsuit out of court have thus far failed.

With files from CBC News and the Associated Press

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