eBay Agrees to Pay $3 Million Criminal Penalty for Harassing Journalists

John Joseph Moakley United States Courthouse. (Beyond My Ken, Creative Commons.))

eBay has agreed to pay a $3 million criminal penalty for an August 2019 harassment and intimidation campaign targeting a Massachusetts couple in retaliation for their online coverage of eBay, and for its obstruction of the investigation that followed.

Federal prosecutors say eBay was charged criminally with two counts of stalking through interstate travel, two counts of stalking through electronic communications services, witness tampering and obstruction of justice and entered into a deferred prosecution agreement. Under the agreement, eBay admitted to the relevant facts about and agreed to pay a criminal penalty of $3 million, which is the statutory maximum fine for these six felonies. eBay will also be required to retain an independent corporate compliance monitor for a period of three years and to make extensive enhancements to its compliance program.

“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,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Joshua S. Levy. “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. The investigation led to felony convictions for seven individuals, all former eBay employees or contractors and the ringleader was sentenced to 57 months in federal prison.”

During 2019 and 2020, prosecutors said, Jim Baugh, eBay’s former senior director of safety and security, and six other members of eBay’s security team began a harassment campaign intended to intimidate the victims and to change the content of the newsletter’s reporting. The campaign included sending anonymous and disturbing deliveries to the victims’ home, including a book on surviving the death of a spouse, a bloody pig mask, a fetal pig and a funeral wreath and live insects; sending private Twitter messages and public tweets criticizing the newsletter’s content and threatening to visit the victims in Natick; and traveling to Natick to surveil the victims and install a GPS tracking device on their car. The harassment also featured Craigslist posts inviting the public for sexual encounters at the victims’ home.

“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. It also puts in place some much needed checks and balances to ensure an overhaul of eBay’s corporate culture by requiring it to implement a revamped compliance and ethics program designed to prevent the recurrence of the appalling conduct we uncovered in this case,” said Jodi Cohen, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation Boston Division. “No one should ever feel unsafe in their own home, and while this settlement cannot erase the significant distress this couple suffered, we hope it will deter others from engaging in similar conduct.”

The victims spotted the surveillance team and contacted local police. After learning of the Natick Police Department’s investigation, Baugh made false statements to police and internal investigators, and he and his team deleted digital evidence related to the cyberstalking campaign and falsified records intended to throw the police off the trail.

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