Online marketplace eBay has been ordered to cough up $3 million to resolve criminal charges related to a harassment campaign by employees who sent live spiders, cockroaches and other disturbing items to the home of a Massachusetts couple, according to court papers filed Thursday.
The Justice Department charged eBay with four counts of corporate stalking — two through interstate travel and two through electronic communications services — as well as witness tampering and obstruction of justice, the federal agency said in a press release.
The seven employees who waged the ruthless intimidation campaign against a Natick, Mass.-based couple have already been handed down felony convictions.
The ringleader received the greatest sentence, 57 months in federal prison, the Justice Department said.
It all allegedly began with an “online intimidation campaign,” in 2019, when defendants Ina and David Steiner were taunted by an account on Twitter, now known as X, pretending to be an eBay seller.
The Steiners — who run their own e-commerce trade publication called EcommerceBytes — were threatened to stop reporting on the auction giant, according to a lawsuit they filed against eBay in July 2021.
The story that allegedly spurred the harassment was a piece written by Ina in August 2019 about a lawsuit brought by eBay that accused accusing Amazon of poaching its sellers, according to court records.
A half-hour after the article was published, eBay’s then-CEO, Devin Wenig, sent another top executive a message saying: “If you are ever going to take her down … now is the time,” according to court documents.
The executive sent Wenig’s message to James Baugh, who was eBay’s senior director of safety and security, and called Ina Steiner a “biased troll who needs to get BURNED DOWN.”
As the online threats continued, the couple allegedly started receiving disturbing packages that included live cockroaches, spiders, a Halloween mask of a bloody pig and a book titled “Grief Diaries: Surviving Loss of a Spouse.”
Further, they alleged that the company attempted to break into their garage to install a GPS tracking device in order to defame the duo and get them to stop reporting on eBay, the lawsuit said.
The Steiners also sued a handful of eBay’s executives, claiming the brutal ambush against them was not spurred by employees — but more as a result of the company’s policy.
The Justice Department on Thursday decided that eBay did, in fact, play a role in the harrassment.
“EBay engaged in absolutely horrific, criminal conduct,” Acting Massachusetts US Attorney Joshua S. Levy said following the agency’s ruling. “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.”
When The Post sought comment from eBay, a spokesperson pointed to a statement on its website, where CEO Jamie Iannone said: “The company’s conduct in 2019 was wrong and reprehensible. … 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.”
In a blog post published to EcommerceBytes on Thursday, the Steiners said: “After today’s announcement, we remain determined to push for answers and do whatever we possibly can to ensure that no corporation ever feels that the option exists for them to squash a person’s First Amendment rights.”
With Post wires