eBay to pay $3 million after former employees sent live insects and a bloody pig mask to harass a couple

A pedestrian walks past eBay Inc. signage at the entrance to the company's headquarters in San Jose, California, U.S., on Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2017. Ebay is expected to release earnings figures on January 25. Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

eBay will pay a $3 million criminal penalty for a harassment campaign, including sending live cockroaches, of a Massachusetts-based couple who ran a newsletter that was sometimes critical of the company.

eBay was charged with six criminal offenses, including stalking, witness tampering and obstruction of justice, after several of the company’s employees sent disturbing packages to the home of Ina and David Steiner in 2019, including a bloody pig mask, a fetal pig, live insects and a funeral wreath.

According to a Massachusetts US attorney’s office statement, the $3 million settlement, announced Thursday, is the statutory maximum fine for eBay’s charges.

The state’s acting US attorney, Joshua Levy, called eBay’s conduct “absolutely horrific” in the statement.

“The company’s employees and contractors involved in this campaign put the victims through pure hell, in a petrifying campaign aimed at silencing their reporting and protecting the eBay brand,” Levy said.

As part of its settlement, eBay will be required to retain an independent corporate compliance monitor for three years and enhance its compliance program.

In a Thursday statement on the company website, eBay CEO Jamie Iannone called the company’s conduct in 2019 “wrong and reprehensible.”

“We continue to extend our deepest apologies to the Steiners for what they endured. Since these events occurred, new leaders have joined the company and eBay has strengthened its policies, procedures, controls and training,” Iannone said.

According to the US attorney’s statement, eBay employees, including Jim Baugh, eBay’s senior director of safety and security at the time, were frustrated with the tone of the Steiners’ newsletter, which aimed to provide information to eBay sellers. The intimidation campaign, which took place in August 2019, sought to push the couple to change the content of their newsletter.

The disturbing packages included, according to a previous DOJ statement, “a box of live cockroaches,” “a book on surviving the loss of a spouse, and pornography.”

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The harassment of the couple by eBay employees didn’t stop at gruesome packages, though. The employees traveled to the Steiners’ home in Massachusetts to surveil them and install a GPS tracking device on their car. The employees also posted the couple’s address on Craigslist, inviting the public for sexual encounters at their home.

“We left no stone unturned in our mission to hold accountable every individual who turned the victims’ world upside-down through a never-ending nightmare of menacing and criminal acts,” Levy said.

Baugh, whom Levy called “the ringleader,” was sentenced to 57 months in prison in September 2022. Six other employees also face felony convictions for their involvement in the crimes.

eBay said it terminated all involved employees in 2020, including the company’s former chief communications officer. The former chief communications officer has not been accused of any criminal wrongdoing.

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