File picture: Reuters
File picture: Reuters

Bizarre eBay cyberstalking plot set to draw four guilty pleas

By Bloomberg Time of article published Sep 25, 2020

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By Janelle Lawrence, Christian Berthelsen

The eBay Inc. cyberstalking case advanced on Wednesday as four former employees of the online auctioneer said they would admit they took part in an elaborate scheme to intimidate a blogger critical of the company.

The four defendants were lower-level employees and don't include James Baugh, eBay's former senior director of safety and security, or David Harville, former director of global resiliency, who deny wrongdoing. But the four could cooperate with federal prosecutors in the pursuit of Baugh and Harville.

The U.S. announced cyberstalking conspiracy charges against the six in June, accusing them of carrying out a harassment campaign last year against a suburban Boston couple who put out EcommerceBytes, an influential newsletter for the millions of merchants who peddle goods on the San Jose, California-based company's marketplace. The campaign allegedly included sending the couple a bloody pig mask, a funeral wreath and other threatening items.

Prosecutors haven't charged former chief executive officer Devin Wenig but say his emails and texts to eBay employees lashing out at the Natick, Massachusetts, blogger triggered the scheme.

The four -- Brian Gilbert, Stephanie Popp, Stephanie Stockwell and Veronica Zea -- will also admit to conspiracy to tamper with witnesses, according to a spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling in Boston.

Their lawyers didn't immediately respond to calls and emails seeking comment on the decision to plead guilty. Lawyers for Baugh and Harville didn't return calls seeking comment. Through a spokeswoman, Wenig declined to comment.

Charges against a seventh former eBay employee, who supervised security at the company's European and Asian offices, were announced in July.

Wenig last year texted a colleague expressing worry and anger over unflattering coverage in the blog and other news media. What followed, prosecutors said, was a criminal plot by his underlings to hound the couple into silence. While there's no suggestion in court papers that Wenig knew of the plot, his communications play a central role in the government's narrative of the case.

"Take her down," he is alleged to have written in response to a post by the blogger.

The four defendants were charged through a document known as an "information," often a sign of a pre-existing agreement to plead guilty. The document was filed under seal in late May and wasn't made public until the arrest and charging of the two more senior defendants nearly three weeks later. It isn't clear whether any of the four have entered cooperation agreements to testify or provide evidence against Baugh and Harville or any other current or former eBay executives.

But based on the allegations made public in the charging documents, they might be able to implicate Baugh and Harville, because prosecutors allege they took direction from the two, met with them and in some cases traveled with them to carry out the alleged harassment campaign. Court records don't indicate that the four ever had contact with other eBay executives about the matter.

Baugh, by contrast, had extensive contact with a more senior eBay executive identified in court papers as Executive 2, including text message exchanges in which they discussed "neutralizing" the victim's website, with Executive 2 replying that he wanted to "see ashes," according to court documents. Bloomberg News previously identified Executive 2 as former communications chief Steven Wymer.

Court records also indicate that prosecutors have already recruited at least three additional confidential witnesses who knew of the scheme.

The witness-tampering charge against the four stems from prosecutors' claim that they lied to Natick police during the department's early investigation in August of 2019. Text messages show the conspirators chatting about how to deceive the police.

"The cops obviously have nothing else to do in Natick," Gilbert texted Baugh, according to the charging documents. He said "the targets have been very impacted by this op. Perfect time for next phase," according to prosecutors.

"These people are wasting our time," Baugh responded, according to the documents. "It's go time."

Bloomberg

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