David Harville, eBay’s former director of global resiliency, pleaded guilty this week to five felony counts of participating in a plan to harass and intimidate journalists who were critical of the online auction business.
Harville is the last of seven former eBay employees/contractors charged by the US Justice Department to have admitted participating in a 2019 cyberstalking campaign to silence Ina and David Steiner, who publish the web newsletter and website EcommerceBytes.
Former eBay employees/contractors Philip Cooke, Brian Gilbert, Stephanie Popp, Veronica Zea, and Stephanie Stockwell previously pleaded guilty. Cooke last July was sentenced to 18 months behind bars. Gilbert, Popp, Zea and Stockwell are currently awaiting sentencing.
Last month, James Baugh, eBay’s former senior director of global security, pleaded guilty to nine felony counts.
The Steiners had reported critically on eBay, to the dissatisfaction of the internet tat bazaar’s executives. eBay’s leaders allegedly made their displeasure known. And then, according to court documents, Baugh, Harville, and the others proceeded to stalk and harass the Steiners online and offline in an effort to silence them.
The former eBay employees/contractors are alleged to have sent the Steiners live insects, the severed head of a fetal pig, a funeral wreath, a pig’s head mask, and a book about coping with the loss of a spouse, among other things.
Harville pleaded guilty [PDF] to five felony counts related to interstate stalking; as part of the plea deal, the US Attorney handling the case agreed to dismiss charges of witness tampering or destruction of records. Each of the five felony counts carries a maximum penalty of five years.
The Steiners are pursuing a civil complaint [PDF] that was filed last July in Massachusetts, USA. They’ve named as defendants not only the seven former eBay employees who have pleaded guilty, but former executives not charged by the government, including Devin Wenig, former CEO of eBay, Steven Wymer, former SVP and chief communications officer of eBay, security contractor Progressive FORCE Concepts, LLC (PFC), and eBay itself.
The Steiners’s complaint alleges that eBay’s CEO and comms chief gave at least seven members of eBay’s security staff free rein to shut down their publication:
eBay in a statement issued following the Justice Department charges in 2020 said its internal investigation “found that, while Mr Wenig’s communications were inappropriate, there was no evidence that he knew in advance about or authorized the actions that were later directed toward the blogger and her husband.”
eBay cyberstalking victims sue web giant
Wenig reportedly resigned in September 2019, ostensibly over disagreements with the eBay board of directors, and Wymer was fired that same month in relation to eBay’s internal investigation.
The Steiners’s complaint contends that Wenig’s employment “was terminated by eBay” and it notes that he “departed eBay with a $57m severance package.”
In light of Baugh’s guilty plea, the Massachusetts court extended the deadline for the plaintiffs to respond to the opposing counsel’s motion to dismiss the case to May 23, 2022. Harville’s plea looks likely to figure into the eventual opposition motion, too.
Neither Wenig nor Wymer were charged by the Justice Department in relation to the harassment campaign against the Steiners and both in statements to the press have denied endorsing criminal activity. ®