According to charges filed by federal prosecutors on Monday, a team of six ex-eBay employees carried out a cyberstalking campaign against a Massachusetts couple who write an e-commerce newsletter. Prosecutors say the former employees also sent the couple a number of things — including live spiders, a Halloween mask of a bloody pig’s face, and a funeral wreath — because they were livid that the husband and wife had written negatively about eBay.
Andrew Lelling, the United States Attorney for Massachusetts, laid out the charges in a news conference on Monday. The cyberstalking, he said, “was a systematic campaign, fueled by the resources of a Fortune 500 company, to emotionally and psychologically terrorize this middle-aged couple in Natick with the goal of deterring them from writing bad things online about eBay.”
According to a report from Wired, the employees were allegedly spurred to action when an eBay executive who has since left the company, and who is not named in the criminal complaint, told a fellow executive that he wanted to “crush” the woman who ran the newsletter and “take her down.” Prosecutors say the newsletter had recently published an article about a lawsuit involving eBay. In messages to his co-workers, the executive reportedly said, “She is biased troll who needs to get BURNED DOWN.”
In a statement, eBay said that although this executive’s actions were inappropriate, “there was no evidence that he knew in advance about or authorized the actions that were later directed toward the blogger and her husband.” They also note, however, that “there were a number of considerations leading to his departure from the company.” And yes, that seems right.
According to the complaint, as reported by the New York Times, James Baugh, the company’s former senior director of safety and security, was arrested on Monday along with David Harville, the company’s former director of global resiliency, a former senior manager of special operations for eBay’s global security team, and a former police captain.
Prosecutors say the employees planned their actions in a series of meetings. In these meetings, they say, Baugh and others decided to send the couple a series of unwanted items and then send anonymous tweets and DMs from accounts claiming to be angry eBay sellers. According to the complaint, the group planned for these accounts to take responsibility for the sent items, and eventually release the couple’s address. The eBay employees then allegedly planned to swoop in, as if they were uninvolved, and offer to help make it stop.
They reportedly began messaging the woman who ran the newsletter under a Twitter account with the name Tui_Elei. The messages got increasingly hostile, and then the shipments began. After the couple received a Halloween mask of a bloody pig’s face, the account reportedly messaged them, “DO I HAVE UR ATTENTION NOW????” They then received a copy of the book Grief Diaries: Surviving the Loss of a Spouse, followed by a sympathy funeral wreath, fly larvae, live spiders and cockroaches, and pornography that was addressed to the couple but sent to their neighbors.
Then, according to the complaint, employees used the excuse of attending a software conference in Boston to travel to the couple’s home and attempt to install a GPS monitor on their car. However, the car was locked in the garage. The next day, according to the Wired report, Harville allegedly bought a screwdriver, painter’s tool, pry bar, and rubber gloves. FBI special agent Mark Wilson wrote in the complaint that he believes Harville intended to use the tools to break into the garage.
And the terror didn’t end there. A classified ad popped up on Craigslist advertising a “BLOCK PARTY” for “singles/couples/swingers” at the couple’s address, urging attendees to “knock on the door/ring the doorbell anytime of day or night.” That same day, according to the complaint, the Tui_Elei Twitter account released their address and sent a DM asking, “U get my gifts cunt!!??”
According to the Times, the couple caught the eBay employees surveilling their house and called the police, who were able to trace the license plate to an eBay contractor who was allegedly involved in the harassment. The police then contacted eBay for assistance.
As the eBay employees and contractors realized they could be fingered in the scheme, they reportedly began to delete the evidence of their conversations and plans. By that time, the Natick police had already called in the FBI. “As the police and eBay’s lawyers continued to investigate, the defendants allegedly deleted digital evidence that showed their involvement, further obstructing what had by then become a federal investigation,” said Lelling.
In a statement posted on its website Monday, eBay said that all employees involved in the cyberstalking were fired in September 2019.
“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. “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.”