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Online auction platform eBay Inc. has agreed to a deal with federal prosecutors to pay a $3 million fine to settle criminal charges stemming from its employees’ harassment campaign of a blogger couple who had written critically of the company.  

The company reached the deal as part of a deferred prosecution agreement on multiple counts of stalking, witness tampering and obstruction of justice.

The case stemmed from a 2019 campaign in which several members of eBay’s security team, including its senior director, began sending threatening items to the couple, Ina and David Steiner, the editor and publisher of eCommercebytes, a newsletter popular among online sellers. 

Among the anonymous items sent to the Steiners included a book on surviving the death of a spouse, a bloody pig mask, a fetal pig, a funeral wreath and live spiders, prosecutors said. The harassment campaign also included sending private Twitter messages and public tweets criticizing the newsletter’s content and threatening to visit the victims’ home in Massachusetts, according to court filings.

Federal prosecutors say eBay security personnel also traveled to Massachusetts to surveil the Steiners’ home and install a GPS tracking device on their car. The harassment also included Craigslist posts inviting the public for sexual encounters at the victims’ home.

After the Steiners spotted eBay security members outside their home and reported it to police, prosecutors say eBay’s then-head of security, Jim Baugh lied to investigators and deleted evidence.

Prosecutors say executives at eBay

were angry at some of what the Steiners had written and that the harassment campaign arose from conversations between senior management and Baugh.

“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,” said Joshua Levy, the acting U.S. attorney for Massachusetts.

“Today’s criminal resolution with the company imposes the maximum fine that the law allows under the statutes, holding eBay accountable for a corporate culture that led to this unprecedented stalking campaign,” he added. 

In a statement, eBay acknowledged what had happened was “reprehsible” and that it had cooperated with authorities from the beginning.

“We continue to extend our deepest apologies to the Steiners for what they endured,” said Jamie Iannone, eBay’s chief executive since 2020.  “Since these events occurred, new leaders have joined the company and eBay has strengthened its policies, procedures, controls and training. eBay remains committed to upholding high standards of conduct and ethics and to making things right with the Steiners.”

After the Steiners spotted eBay security members outside their home and reported it to police, prosecutors say Baugh lied to investigators and deleted evidence.

Baugh and six other eBay employees and contractors pleaded guilty to charges for their roles in the cyberstalking campaign. Baugh was sentenced to 57 months in prison. Three other high-ranking eBay security executives were also given prison time and two received sentences of house arrest. One former security manager is awaiting sentencing.

Last month, a judge ruled that a civil case brought by the Steiners against eBay and some of its former executives could proceed. 

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