EBay Inc. and former top executives were sued for allegedly running a bizarre cyber-campaign to “terrorize, stalk and silence” a suburban Boston blogger and her husband who were critical of the e-commerce company.
Ina and David Steiner claim they were left psychologically damaged from the 2019 cyberstalking operation, which they say included macabre anonymous deliveries such as a bloody pig mask, surveillance by eBay security executives and phony online ads designed to send strangers to their home for sex parties.
EBay “engaged in a systematic campaign to emotionally and psychologically torture” the Steiners, of Natick, Massachusetts, according to the lawsuit, filed in federal court in Boston on Wednesday.
The couple, who put out the EcommerceBytes blog, alleges that former eBay chief executive officer Devin Wenig and former senior vice president Steve Wymer were enraged by their coverage of eBay and gave the company’s security team “carte blanche” to put an end to it.
The U.S. has charged seven former eBay employees with conspiracy in the matter. Five pleaded guilty, and two are seeking trials. Neither Wenig nor Wymer has been charged, and both have publicly denied wrongdoing. Wenig stepped down from eBay in September 2019 and received a $57 million exit package.
“The culture itself within Ebay fostered an almost cult-like atmosphere where employees were not only expected, but required, to fulfill company directives, regardless of criminality,” according to the lawsuit, in which the Steiners seek an unspecified amount in monetary damages and any profits the defendants might make off book or movie deals.
“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,” eBay said in a statement. The company said it was “extremely cooperative with the investigation in helping state and federal authorities figure out what had happened and collect evidence of the crime.”
Neither Wenig nor Wymer responded to emails seeking comment on the lawsuit, which also names as defendants all seven former eBay employees charged by the U.S.
In their suit, the Steiners cite messages from Wenig and Wymer to employees that were made public in prosecutors’ court filings as proof they are responsible.
“If we are ever going to take her down … now is the time,” Wenig texted Wymer, according to court records.
At one point Wymer texted the senior director of security at the time, James Baugh, that Ina Steiner was “a biased troll.”
“I want her DONE,” he wrote, according to court documents.
Baugh and eBay’s former director of global resiliency, David Harville, have denied wrongdoing and are seeking trials. William Fick, a lawyer for Baugh, had no comment on the lawsuit. A lawyer for Harville didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
‘We Don’t Hate eBay’
At a news conference Wednesday, the Steiners told reporters that at first they had no idea where the threats and deliveries were coming from. They said they were “devastated” to learn that eBay employees were behind them.
“Basically this is corporate terrorism,” David Steiner said. “They weaponized their security department to make death threats against my wife, to try and burn our business down.”
Ina Steiner described living in terror, looking out the window and wondering what was lurking. The couple now has an array of security cameras, use a dash cam in their car and vary their route.
“We don’t hate eBay,” Ina Steiner said. “Our readers sell on eBay and other platforms, and management was apparently thin-skinned.”
The couple’s attorney, Rosemary Scapicchio, said eBay didn’t hold its leadership accountable. The Steiners got an e-mail from the company saying it had done an internal investigation and was sorry, she said.
“Now we’re going to do the investigation,” Scapicchio said.
The civil case is Steiner v. eBay Inc., 21-cv-11181, U.S. District Court, District of Massachusetts (Boston).News Source: Bloomberg