eBay fined $3 million for employees who sent live spiders and pig fetus to critics

Online auction house eBay was fined $3 million to settle criminal charges against it after it mailed live spiders, cockroaches, a funeral wreath, a bloody pig mask, a book about surviving the loss of a spouse, and a pig fetus to a couple that criticized the company, reports AP.

"Absolutely horrific conduct"

"EBay engaged in absolutely horrific, criminal conduct," acting Massachusetts U.S. Attorney Josh Levy in a 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."

David and Ina Steiner, the couple who published the newsletter, EcommerceBytes, sued eBay in 2021, stating that the company "engaged in a coordinated effort to intimidate, threaten to kill, torture, terrorize, stalk and silence the Steiners, in order to stifle their reporting on eBay." According to the complaint, eBay:

  • falsely accused EcommerceBytes of being a phishing site
  • used fake identities to post critical comments on EcommerceBytes, violating the website's user agreement
  • intimidated and threatened the owners of EcommerceBytes through anonymous tweets and direct messages, falsely representing disgruntled eBay sellers
  • sent sexually explicit materials to the Steiners' neighbors, falsely attributed to David Steiner (co-publisher of EcommerceBytes), with the intent to defame and harm their reputation
  • directed various eBay employees to intimidate, threaten, torture, terrorize, stalk, and silence the Steiners.
  • created fake Twitter avatars and identities, and posted fraudulent Craigslist ads inviting strangers to the Steiners' home, as part of the intimidation campaign
  • engaged in in-person harassment and stalking of the Steiners, including sending unsolicited deliveries to their residence

Seven eBay employees pleaded guilty to various charges. James Baugh, eBay's senior director of safety and security, was sentenced to nearly five years in prison.

"Damaging and permanent impact"

On news of the ruling, the Steiners issued a statement today on their website. They said eBay's harassment campaign had "a damaging and permanent impact" on them "emotionally, psychologically, physically, reputationally, and financially.":

In 2022, we were crushed when we learned the government had not interviewed the top executives at eBay as part of its criminal investigation. As victims of despicable crimes meant to destroy our lives and our livelihood, we felt it was vital to do everything in our power to make sure such a thing never happened to anyone else. eBay's actions against us had a damaging and permanent impact on us – emotionally, psychologically, physically, reputationally, and financially – and we strongly pushed federal prosecutors for further indictments to deter corporate executives and board members from creating a culture where stalking and harassment is tolerated or encouraged.

AP reported that eBay could avoid paying the fine "if it complies with certain conditions, according to the U.S. attorney's office in Massachusetts."