eBay to pay $3 million for harassment targeting Massachusetts couple over newsletter

Executives retaliated against the couple over their newsletter coverage of eBay.

January 11, 2024, 5:15 PM

eBay will pay a $3 million criminal penalty for a campaign of harassment and intimidation undertaken by company executives that included anonymous home deliveries of a bloody pig mask, live insects and a funeral wreath, the Department of Justice said on Thursday.

The harassment targeted a Massachusetts couple for its online coverage of eBay, the DOJ said.

The San Jose, California, based online shopping firm was slapped with felony charges, including stalking, witness tampering and obstruction of justice, the DOJ added. The harassment took place roughly four years ago.

PHOTO: A sign is posted in front of eBay headquarters, Feb. 22, 2023, in San Jose, Calif.
A sign is posted in front of eBay headquarters, Feb. 22, 2023, in San Jose, Calif.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

"eBay engaged in absolutely horrific, criminal conduct. 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," Acting U.S. Attorney Joshua S. Levy said in a statement.

eBay did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

From 2019 to 2020, Jim Baugh, eBay's former Senior Director of Safety and Security, and six other employees on eBay's security team targeted the couple for its role in publishing a newsletter about issues of interest to eBay sellers, the DOJ said.

Senior executives at eBay grew frustrated over the tone and content of the newsletter, as well as comments posted beneath the newsletter's articles, the DOJ added.

In response, the DOJ said, Baugh and the other eBay employees carried out a campaign of harassment to intimidate the couple and change the tone of the newsletter.

PHOTO: Seal of the Department of Justice before a news conference in Washington, D.C., Jan. 24, 2023.
Seal of the Department of Justice before a news conference in Washington, D.C., Jan. 24, 2023.
Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The campaign included sending anonymous and disturbing deliveries to the victims' home, and sending private Twitter messages and public tweets criticizing the newsletter's content, the DOJ said.

eBay employees traveled to Natick, Massachusetts, to surveil the victims and install a GPS tracking device on their car, the DOJ added.

When Baugh learned of a police investigation into the harassment, he made false statements to the police and his team deleted digital evidence, the DOJ said.

eBay terminated all of the employees involved after an investigation.

"The company cooperated fully and extensively with law enforcement authorities throughout the process. EBay does not tolerate this kind of behavior. eBay apologizes to the affected individuals and is sorry that they were subjected to this. EBay holds its employees to high standards of conduct and ethics and will continue to take appropriate action to ensure these standards are followed," the independent special committee formed by eBay's board of directors to oversee the company's investigation said in a statement at the time.

Ultimately, seven eBay employees were convicted for their role in the harassment campaign, many of whom served prison sentences. Bough was sentenced to 57 months in prison in September 2022, the DOJ said.

In addition to the fine, eBay agreed to retain an independent corporate compliance monitor for three years and improve its compliance process, the DOJ said.

"Today's settlement holds eBay criminally and financially responsible for emotionally, psychologically, and physically terrorizing the publishers of an online newsletter out of fear that bad publicity would adversely impact their Fortune 500 company," Jodi Cohen, special agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation Boston Division, said in a statement.

"It also puts in place some much needed checks and balances to ensure an overhaul of eBay's corporate culture," Cohen added.