In one of the most bizarre stories to ever come out of corporate America, the Department of Justice charged six former executives at eBay with cyberstalking two tech reporters who were critical of the popular sales site. Wired reports the extreme lengths that executives at eBay took to silence and intimidate critics, including a sustained harassment campaign that included physical stalking, attempting to track the target’s car, sending dead animals and scary items to the home, and online threats of violence.
“The result, as alleged in the complaint, was a systematic campaign, fueled by the resources of a Fortune 500 company, to emotionally and psychologically terrorize this middle-aged couple in Natick [Massachusetts] with the goal of deterring them from writing bad things online about eBay,” US attorney Andrew Lelling said in a press conference Monday morning. While the complaint does not identify the victims by name, it cites specific headlines and stories that indicate that Baugh and his team were after the husband and wife publishers of EcommerceBytes.
The harassment, prosecutors say, was not the only endgame. In a grotesque bit of 3-D chess, the eBay team allegedly responsible for the campaign planned to eventually step in and offer to help make it stop. This “white knight” strategy, as the criminal complaint calls it, was intended to create goodwill toward eBay, so that coverage would improve, and the victims would identify whoever was behind that troublesome commenter account.
eBay executives orchestrated terrifying intimidation game including deliveries of live spiders
And then, on August 10, the deliveries started. First, an email confirming the order of a “Preserved Fetal Pig” that was on its way to the victims’ house. (The order was canceled, Lelling said Monday, after an inquiry from the vendor.) Later that same afternoon, Amazon delivered a Halloween mask of a bloody pig’s face. Fourteen minutes later, court documents say, the Tui_Elei Twitter account sent another DM: “DO I HAVE UR ATTENTION NOW????”
The complaint lays out a hellish timeline: On August 12, another Amazon delivery, a copy of the book Grief Diaries: Surviving the Loss of a Spouse. The next day, a voicemail for the second victim following up on a fabricated inquiry to open an Adam & Eve sex toy franchise. The next, a package of fly larvae and live spiders. Another containing live cockroaches. On August 15, two of the couple’s neighbors received copies of Hustler: Barely Legal in the husband’s name. That same day, a local florist delivered a funeral wreath to the couples’ home. The Tui_Elei account sent harassing messages throughout.
When online stalking wasn’t enough, feds say eBay executives turned to in-person harassment
The lengths the defendants went to in order to harass the couple are harrowing. In one incident they were listening to a police scanner as they tailed the couple and heard the victims call the police after realizing they were being followed.
On August 16, members of the eBay team allegedly tailed the couple in a rented Dodge Caravan. The surveillance team was listening to the local police dispatch; when the couple reported they were being followed, the crew peeled off. That night, court documents say, three of the defendants ran up a $750 bill at a Boston restaurant, batting around more potential deliveries like chain saws, human feces, and a dead rat. In the middle of the night, they sent an emergency plumber to the home.
The complaint also alleges that the former executives posted multiple ads on Craigslist advertising sex parties at the victims’ home address.
The surveillance continued, prosecutors say, as did the harassment. A little after midnight on August 18, a classified ad appeared on Craigslist promoting a week-long “BLOCK PARTY” for “singles/couples/swingers” and listed the victims’ Natick address. Visitors were encouraged to arrive after 10 pm and to “knock on the door/ring the doorbell anytime of day or night.” That afternoon, the complaint says, the Tui_Elei account posted their names and address as well. A few minutes later, a direct message: “U get my gifts cunt!!??”
U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling described the eBay executives’ motive to “destroy lives”
This was a determined, systematic effort by senior employees of a major company to destroy the lives of a couple in Natick, all because they published content the company executives didn’t like,” Lelling said at Monday’s press conference. “For a while they succeeded, psychologically devastating these victims for weeks as they desperately tried to figure out what was going on and stop it.”
Did the conspiracy at eBay go all the way to the CEO?
Former eBay CEO Devin Wenig also left the company that month. While he isn’t named in the criminal complaint, eBay confirmed that he is “Executive 1,” who allegedly gave the initial order to “take her down” (which was then relayed to Baugh by “Executive 2”).
This story is so shocking and bizarre that I wouldn’t be surprised if it were turned into a documentary or a Hollywood blockbuster. In the history of corporate scandals, this one might be the worst. You can read the charges against the former eBay employees in their entirety below: