When Ina and David Steiner started EcommerceBytes, a newsletter focusing on e-commerce, there was no way to anticipate that they were about to invoke the wrath of one of the industry’s giants: eBay.
About two decades after the auction site was launched, that’s exactly what transpired after a handful of eBay employees working in the security department — led by James Baugh — launched a shocking harassment campaign intended to both torment and humiliate the couple. All because the newsletter the Steiners ran criticized eBay’s business.
Now, after being charged with cyberstalking in the summer of 2020, Baugh, formerly the senior director of safety and security for eBay, has pleaded guilty to a number of crimes, including stalking, witness tampering, destruction, alteration, and falsification of records in a federal investigation, according to The Mercury News.
The story involves packages of bugs, porn, and pig fetuses. You might want to sit down for this one.
Beginning in the summer of 2019, the Steiners found themselves on the receiving end of a continuous string of strange deliveries, online intimidation, and unwanted visitations to their home in Natick, Massachusetts.
The sordid details — Baugh, along with six other former eBay employees (who were all arrested in June 2020) sent a range of packages to the Steiners’ home that included a pig fetus, a bloodied pig mask based on the movie Saw, fly larvae, live spiders, maggots, cockroaches, a funeral wreath, and a book on grief that focused on getting over the death of one’s spouse.
Lewd magazines like Hustler: Barely Legal were sent to the couples’ neighbors, with the address mark being made out to David Steiner. A Craigslist ad for a sex party was placed on the site directing people to the Steiners’ home around the same time.
A piece from Boston Magazine went in-depth on the case and noted that the couple also received threats from a Twitter account (@Tui_Elei) referencing the ongoing siege. The goal of the campaign, according to court filings, was to upend the Steiners’ lives to the extent that they would not be able to publish their newsletter.
While Baugh was in charge of the operation, a number of other eBay employees were also complicit. Philip Cooke, a former security supervisor at eBay, was sentenced to 18 months in prison; four other former employees, along with a former police chief, pleaded guilty and are still awaiting sentencing. David Harville, eBay’s former director of global resiliency, pleaded not guilty.
The most harrowing part of the whole case, aside from the mental toll taken on the Steiners, was that the directive for the campaign originated at the top of the company. Former eBay CEO Devin Wenig and communications head Steve Wymer were loosely involved and had been in contact with Baugh as he set the campaign into motion. From Boston Magazine:
“[Wenig] said to burn her to the ground correct?” Baugh texted Wymer in early August. “She is [a] biased troll who needs to get BURNED DOWN,” Wymer responded, adding, “I’ll embrace managing any bad fallout. We need to STOP her.” Shortly thereafter, Baugh wrote to Harville: “I’ve been ordered to find and destroy.”
Baugh is facing up to 45 years in prison (five years for each of the five stalking charges along with up to 20 years for the other four charges) but as noted by the aforementioned Mercury News piece, a maximum sentence is unlikely.