Six former members of eBay’s global security team have been charged by the FBI and federal prosecutors in Boston with cyberstalking in an effort to ‘suffocate’ the editors of an online newsletter on the online auction company.
Prosecutors said the plan was twofold. First, eBay members allegedly harassed the couple who published the newsletter with online deliveries at all hours of the day and night and sent threatening messages. Then the eBay team would contact the couple so they could claim that eBay had noticed the harassment and offered to help them out of the threatening environment that eBay itself had created.
Prosecutors called it the “white knight strategy.”
“Essentially, the plan was for eBay to arrive to ‘rescue’ the victims of the very harassment that the defendants and their co-conspirators had themselves created in order to gain the goodwill of the victims,” prosecutors wrote in court filings. deposited. in class.
Employees allegedly involved in the scheme are James Baugh, former Senior Director of Safety and Security at eBay; Stephanie Popp, senior director of global intelligence at eBay; Stephanie Stockwell, intelligence analyst; Veronica Zea, who worked for eBay as a contractor; Brian Gilbert, senior director of special operations for eBay’s global security team; and David Harville, former Director of Global Resilience at eBay.
Joseph Bonavolonta, the FBI special agent in charge of the case, said the group was inspired by the movie “Johnny Be Good”.
“They ordered everything from live spiders, a box of cockroaches, a preserved pig fetus, a pig mask, a condolence wreath and a book on how to survive the loss of a spouse,” Bonavolonta said. .
“All the while they were hiding behind the internet, using phones and laptops, overseas email accounts and prepaid debit cards bought with money, to try to cover up their alleged crimes and ‘escape and obstruct the Natick Police Department’, Bonavolonta added. The couple lived in Natick, Massachusetts.
An eBay spokesperson asked NBC News to a statement posted on the company’s websitewho noted that the company has not been charged, nor have current eBay employees.
The company said it was first notified in August 2019 by law enforcement of “suspicious actions by its security personnel towards a blogger” and launched an investigation with the help of outside legal counsel. of the law firm Morgan, Lewis & Bockius.
“As a result of the investigation, eBay terminated all employees involved, including the company’s former director of communications, in September 2019,” the company wrote.
The investigation also covered then-CEO Devin Wenig. Wenig left eBay in September 2019.
“The internal investigation found that while Mr. Wenig’s communications were inappropriate, there was no evidence that he was aware of or authorized the actions that were then directed against the blogger and her husband.” , the company wrote. “However, as the company previously announced, a number of considerations led to his departure from the company.”
Federal prosecutors said in a press release that two members of eBay’s management team exchanged or forwarded text messages to try to “bring down” one of the people behind the newsletter.
Prosecutors said Baugh, Harville, Zea and Popp drove to the victims’ home in Natick several times and planned to break into the victims’ garage to install a GPS tracking device on their car.
The plan was foiled when the victims spotted the group of former eBay employees and contacted the Natick Police Department.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Boston said once employees learned of a police investigation, they lied to police about the situation and the company’s involvement.
According to the criminal complaint, the unidentified online newsletter published articles titled “What’s Behind Amazon Prime Shipping Delays?” and “Craigslist FINALLY launches a mobile app: is it worth the wait?”
A Google search identifies these articles as published on ecommercebytes.com, which is published by David and Ina Steiner.
Harville, 48, of New York was arrested Monday morning and will make a first appearance Monday in federal court in Manhattan. Baugh, 45, was also arrested on Monday.
Popp, Stockwell, Zea and Gilbert have already been charged in criminal information filed May 22 and unsealed on Monday. They will be reviewed later.
Additionally, there are several unnamed witnesses who cooperated with the investigation, according to court documents.
CORRECTION (June 15, 1:44 PM ET): An earlier version of this article was incorrect when Devin Wenig left eBay as CEO. He resigned in September 2019, not September 2018.