Federal prosecutors have charged six former eBay employees in connection with the cyberstalking
The harassment first started for Natick resident David Steiner and his wife, Ina, after their fence was tagged with the word “Fidomaster”. The name corresponded with a consistent commenter on the couple’s ecommerce newsletter, EcommerceBytes.
EcommerceBytes was created in 1999 amid the boom of people turning to eBay to buy and sell items. At first, the newsletter acted like a guide for the public on best practices when selling through the site. But as eBay changed over the years, the newsletter became more critical of business moves and practices of the company.
“Fidomaster” was a commenter particularly critical of the ecommerce site, the couple told the Boston Globe.
According to officials, the campaign against the couple started after the newsletter published an article about a lawsuit against eBay. Senior officials within eBay, officials have said, sent messages to each other to “take down” the newsletter’s editors.
Following the fence tagging, the harassment escalated to include the eBay team sending the couple a preserved fetal pig, a bloody pig Halloween mask, live bugs, a funeral wreath, and a book on surviving the loss of a spouse.
The couple installed security cameras in and around their homes and even slept in separate bedrooms in case someone broke in. This, they said, would allow for one person to escape if the other was being attacked.
“You couldn’t shut the feeling of terror off, there’s just no off switch,” Mr Steiner told the Boston Globe, adding that they felt trapped within their own home.
Natick police were able to unravel the conspiracy after Mr Steiner took pictures of an SUV’s license plate that was following him through the town.
This led police to an eBay contractor who was staying at a nearby hotel.
But that didn’t completely stop the harassment. The couple received cyberattacks that included disparaging tweets until 6 September, 2019, when it all finally stopped.
Then they experienced months of silence as they waited for more details from the investigation, which later involved the FBI and federal prosecutors, on who might be involved in the attacks.
“It was a really long winter with the weight of all of this hanging over us,” Mr Steiner told the publication.
In June 2020, federal prosecutors announced charges against six former eBay employees in connection with the cyberstalking campaign launched against the couple.
Once eBay learned of the investigation, prosecutors said that the participants conspired to lie to investigators about the harassment campaign.
According to prosecutors, the harassment campaign was directed by James Baugh, the former head of eBay’s Global Security and Resiliency unit. He was charged with conspiracy to commit cyberstalking and conspiracy to commit witness tampering last year.
At a hearing last week, Philip Cooke, 56, of San Jose, California, was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison for his involvement in cyberstalking the couple. Cooke was a former supervisor of security operations for eBay who pleaded guilty last year to conspiracy to commit cyberstalking and conspiracy to commit witness tampering.
Also charged in the scheme was Stephanie Stockwell, Stephanie Popp, Veronica Zea, and Brian Gilbert – all of whom pleaded guilty and were awaiting sentencing in September.
Mr Bough and David Harville, the sixth person charged in the scheme, are awaiting trial.
“We didn’t even know these people,” Mrs Steiner said. “We were helping their customers sell more. That should be a good thing.”
Former CEO David Wenig has not been charged in the conspiracy, but the investigation found “inappropriate communications” regarding the couple. It was found that he did not have advanced knowledge of the stalking or harassment plans.
The Steiners filed a civil lawsuit on 21 July against eBay and its top officials.
“The reason we’re suing is we don’t want it to happen to anybody else,” Mrs Steiner said. “It has to be known what was done to us.”
The Independent has contacted eBay for a comment on the civil lawsuit
“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,” an eBay spokesperson said in a statement to Boston 25 News. “The events from 2019 should never have happened, and as eBay expressed to the Steiners, we are very sorry for what they endured.
“eBay was extremely cooperative with the investigation in helping state and federal authorities figure out what had happened and collect evidence of the crime.”