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WTF?! The bizarre case of eBay harassing and stalking a Massachusetts couple who criticized the auction platform has ended with the company agreeing to pay $3 million to settle criminal charges. It's certainly a strange tale, one that involves a pig fetus, live insects, and doxing.
The story began in 2019, when Ina and David Steiner published an article in their EcommerceBytes newsletter that painted eBay in a negative light. The piece was about the auction site launching a lawsuit that accused Amazon of poaching sellers.
It seems eBay was far from happy about being called out. In response to the letter, seven high-level employees devised a harassment campaign against the couple. This included sending a preserved fetal pig, live spiders and cockroaches, a bloody pig mask, a book about dealing with the death of a spouse, and a funeral wreath to the Steiners.
While that might sound like enough retaliation, the executives also visited the couple's home to conduct surveillance, placed a GPS tracking device on their car, sent private and public threats to the couple on social media, and used Craigslist to post invites for strangers to visit the Steiners' house to engage in sexual encounters. Pornography addressed to David Steiner was sent to the Steiners' neighbors, and the pair were signed up for newsletters for Sin City Fetish Night, the Satanic Temple, the Communist Party, and dozens more.
The eBay employees responsible for the harassment were fired soon after the incidents. All seven pleaded guilty to the criminal charges against them. One of the group, Philip Cooke, was sentenced to 18 months in prison for his part in 2021, while Jim Baugh, eBay's former senior director of safety and security, was sentenced to nearly five years in 2022.
Baugh's lawyers said he was pressured by former eBay CEO Devin Wenig to deal with the Steiners, though the ex-Chief Executive denies any knowledge of the campaign and has not been charged.
The Department of Justice has now announced that eBay has agreed to pay a $3 million criminal penalty for the harassment and intimidation campaign, the statutory maximum fine for the six felony offenses it faced. The company was charged with two counts of stalking through interstate travel, two counts of stalking through electronic communications services, one count of witness tampering, and one count of obstruction of justice.
As part of the deferred prosecution agreement, eBay will be required to retain a corporate compliance monitor for three years. It must also make extensive enhancements to its compliance program. The company writes that it takes responsibility for the misconduct of its former employees.
"The company's conduct in 2019 was wrong and reprehensible," said Jamie Iannone, Chief Executive Officer at eBay. "From the moment eBay first learned of the 2019 events, eBay cooperated fully and extensively with law enforcement authorities. We continue to extend our deepest apologies to the Steiners for what they endured. Since these events occurred, new leaders have joined the company and eBay has strengthened its policies, procedures, controls and training. eBay remains committed to upholding high standards of conduct and ethics and to making things right with the Steiners."