Update: One of the unnamed executives was eBay's CEO at the time, which is why he is now eBay's ex-CEO. Also, another eBay manager was charged.
Most people upset by criticism on a news Web site might send an angry e-mail to the editor. A federal complaint alleges that eBay's top security executive and several of his minions, dissatisfied with a Natick-based Web site's eBay coverage, instead unleashed an online and in-person reign of terror that included sending the couple who run the site a bloody pig's mask, live cockroaches and a funeral wreath, traveling to Natick to conduct surveillance of the couple and, when local police started inquiring, lying to them and then even to eBay's lawyers about the stream of expletive-filled threatening Twitter messages they were sending the couple, according to a federal complaint unsealed today.
The complaint, filed in US District Court in Boston last week and unsealed today, charges two eBay executives with conspiracy to commit cyberstalking and conspiracy to commit witness tampering: James Baugh, 45, of San Jose, CA, eBay's senior director of security and safety and David Harville, 48, of New York, in charge of an eBay unit that plans how to keep the company running in the event of security threats and national disasters.
Four of their alleged minions were also named: Stephanie Popp, 32, of San Jose, Stephanie Stockwell, 26, of Redwood City, Calif., Veronica Zea, 26, of San Jose and Brian Gilbert, 51, of San Jose.
A 51-page affidavit by an FBI agent - even drug gangs don't usually get affidavits that long - details what sounds like the screenplay for a bad thriller, in which a team of out-of-control executives and minions set out to destroy a couple's life even as they try to fend off what they think is just some country-bumpkin detective in a dinky little town.
EBay fired all six of the people named in the complaint after learning it was not just a Natick detective but the FBI that was looking into the affair. But the affidavit suggests the campaign started even higher up the company's organization chart, to a pair of unnamed - and uncharged - eBay executives who allegedly pressured Baugh repeatedly to do something about both the site and a particular anonymous commenter who kept getting under their skin.
"We are going to crush this lady," one of the two executives texted the other, the affidavit says, adding that in August of last year, one of the executives demanded Baugh do something more drastic than just setting up a fake social-media account in an attempt to trick the commenter into revealing himself. "We need to STOP her," one of the executives texted Baugh, according to the complaint.
Baugh then convened several meetings with Harville and the four underlings named in the complaint and several more who were not named, at least three because they turned "confidential witnesses" for the FBI.
At the first meeting, they agreed to start a harassment campaign against the wife and editor of the site, "making her uncomfortable to the point where Victim 1 would stop writing negative articles."
Baugh called the harassment a "distraction campaign" and suggested that scary masks, live insects, or embarrassing items, such as pornography and strippers, be sent to the Victims (and in some cases to their neighbors in the Victims' names).
According to CW-2, BAUGH showed a clip from the 1988 movie Johnny Be Good, in which two friends arranged for the delivery, to their football coach's home, of a series of unwanted and distracting items and people, including $283 in pizzas, an elephant, a male stripper, an exterminator, and Hare Krishna missionaries. BAUGH stated he wanted something similar to happen to the Victims and tasked the [team]'s members with brainstorming other things that could be delivered to the Victims' home.
BAUGH also directed that the deliveries not be traceable to eBay. At his direction, Zea and other team analysts paid for the deliveries using prepaid debit cards, and made online orders using anonymous email accounts, virtual private networks, and cell phones and computers specifically purchased for the harassment campaign.
In these meetings, BAUGH referred to having executive support for these actions and shared with one or more members of the group text messages that BAUGH claimed to have received from executive management, including ones similar to the ones between BAUGH and Executive 2 described above.
BAUGH nevertheless stressed that the harassment campaign must remain confidential. In one of these meetings, BAUGH displayed a photograph of what he said were members of a Samoan gang. BAUGH said, in substance, that if the distraction campaign didn't work, he would send the gang to the Victims' home, that they were not "good guys," and that whatever happened would be out of BAUGH's control.
At a followup meeting, according to the affidavit, Baugh and his minions decided to set up a bogus Twitter account to send a series of increasingly "aggressive" messages, culminating in one that showed the "sender" knew the couple's home address. This would then let the conspirators, acting as eBay investigators, to approach the couple and win their trust by pretending to investigate the messages - and so make them think better of eBay.
In fact, as their campaign began to unravel when the husband got a photo of one of the minions following him in a rented SUV, which led a Natick PD to the eBay employee who allegedly rented the vehicle, the conspirators decided to try this "White Knight gambit" on the police: They would go to the detective and "turn in" the fake Twitter messager, to show they were actually trying to help the couple find who was harassing them.
But first came two weeks of increasingly nasty harasssment both online and at the couple's home, according to the affidavit.
On Aug. 8, the campaign began: The wife began getting expletive-filled Twitter messages while her inbox started filling up with "dozens of emails and newsletters that she had not signed up for - including one about "cat faeries".
On Aug. 10, the couple got an Amazon.com package containing a bloody pig-face mask. About 14 minutes later, the affidavit says, the bogus Twitter account messaged the wife: "DO I HAVE UR ATTENTION NOW????"
On Aug. 11, the wife got more expletive-filled Twitter messages referring to sexual practices with her husband.
On Aug. 12, she got a book, ordered through Amazon, titled "Grief Diaries: Surviving the Loss of a Spouse."
On Aug. 13, somebody from the Adam & Eve chain left her a message about her alleged interest in opening a sex-toys franchise.
Meanwhile, the threatening messages from the fake Twitter account continued.
On Aug. 14, the couple "received a package from Carolina Biological Supply in Burlington, North Carolina that, according to the company, contained fly
larvae and live spiders," and also "a box of cockroaches sent from Dubia Roaches of Wichita, Kansas."
On Aug. 15, one of their neighbors got a copy of "Hustler: Barely Legal" with the husband's name on it, while the couple got a "sympathy" wreath from a florist in Cambridge.
That same day, Baugh, Harville and a third eBay worker flew to Boston, checked into the Ritz Carlton, then rented a Dodge Caravan and, around 11:30 p;.m., after another minion back in California WhatsApp'ed them with make and registration info of the victims' car, drove out to Natick - with plans to install a GPS on the victims' car. Two other minions back in California, the affidavit continues, used an online police scanner to monitor Natick police so they could alert their coworkers in case the police detected them.
They were, however, foiled, because the victims had parked their car in the garage that night and they hadn't thought to bring any tools with which to break into the garage.
The affidavit states Harville then went out to a Boston hardware store the next day and bought the duct tape and either a putty knife or scraper, all the tools a professional would need to break into a garage. They drove out to Natick again, this time splitting up between a Caravan and a rental Subaru. As they were heading towards the house, Baugh noticed them driving and he began to follow them in the Caravan, the affidavit states.
After a week of harassment, the couple noticed they were being followed and called Natick Police, where a dispatcher sent out an alert and the team out in California heard it and called off the pursuit. The couple reported the minivan's registration, but they were off by one letter, so Natick police couldn't trace it.
On Aug. 16, the conspirators convened at Boston's Oceannaire restaurant, and as they plowed through $750 worth of food and drink, they discussed next steps, like sending the couple a dead rat, although they decided against that - and a follow up idea to send a late-night stripper to their door, according to the affidavit.
On Aug. 18, a pizza guy from Boston's one 24-hour pizza-delivery service showed up at the victim's home around 4:30 a.m., demanding $70 for a pizza. A second pizza delivery came around 11:30 p.m. The wife got the phone number used to order the pizza from the delivery guy.
On Aug. 18, Harville flew back to California, but was replaced by yet another minion - Baugh and two minions then allegedly drove out to Natick again, this time in a rented GMC SUV and began following the husband as he drove around Natick. Again, the conspirators got noticed, the husband snapped their photo and Baugh called off his mission.
Meanwhile, the conspirators posted a notice on Craigslist about a weeklong "block party" at the couple's house, starting nightly at 10 - "Singles/couples/swingers welcome ... Wellesley College students are wecome!!!!!" Two more posts quickly appeared, one for an alleged estate sale, another for a couple seeking a threesome. All listed the victims' address.
On Aug. 20, the eBayers returned to the victims' houses, but were spooked by a Jeep parked out front - which, as they correctly surmised was an undercover Natick PD unit. So they had to content themselves with posting a yard-sale post for the house on a yard-sale site - and with sending more pornography to a neighbor with the husband's name on it.
In response to a request from Natick Police, Twitter shut down the harassing account, but the conspirators just set up another one with a similar name. A second bogus account appeared and began harassing the couple as well, partly to try to throw Natick Police off the scent. But a Natick detective had tracked the SUV rental to one of the minions, Veronica Zea - and discovered that the California number used to reserve it was the same as the one used to order the pizza.
Aug. 20 was an eventful day for the conspirators: They convened online with the folks back west and agreed to actually go to Natick PD with bogus dossiers about the couple, in which eBay would claim the wife had directly threatened eBay and one of the top-level executives who started the ball rolling:
The more I thought about it I do think we should bring a dossiers on the [Victims] to the PD. Definitely want to make them look crazy.
On Aug. 21, the detective showed up at the Ritz Carlton to talk to Zea, but possibly alerted by the online scanner, the eBay people knew he was coming and so got her out of the hotel and on the way to Logan for a plane back to San Jose before he could talk to her. In an online chat, Baugh summed up his opinion of the Natick PD: "Whatever - fuck them. I'll get [Zea] on the plane and I'll come back and deal with them."
His fucking them included creating an alibi for Zea - that she was "driving around looking for antiques" in Natick, a town not normally associated with antiques, while she was in Boston for a cybersecurity conference.
As she was being driven to the airport, the detective called her cell number and got another one of the conspirators, who pretended to be her husband and said she would agree to talk when she could.
Meanwhile, the team was trying to figure out additional ways to put off a detective they dismissed as a small-town bumpkin up against a far more skilled team. What they didn't know, however, was that the detective was not as stupid as they thought and had not only sought information from Enterprise and the Ritz Carlton, but that after a second conversation with one of the minions - who lied about why Zea was in Boston and lied about the alleged investigation into whoever was sending the victims those Twitter messages - he had gone to the FBI in Boston. After consulting with the US Attorney's office in Boston, the FBI assigned an agent - the author of the affidavit - who has a background in investigating cybercrimes.
The noose began to tighten around the conspirators, the affidavit continues.
In response to queries from the Natick detective, the eBay legal department began asking its own questions. At a meeting:
According to CW-2 and CW-3, HARVILLE was furious that both the Ritz Carlton and Enterprise had invaded his privacy by giving his information to the NPD. He swore and screamed about suing the NPD for putting his name in the request to eBay for assistance.
EBay ordered all of the alleged conspirators to meet with the company's outside lawyers on Aug. 29. In a WhatsApp discussion between Baugh, Harville and a couple of minions, Baugh proposed refusing to go to the meeting, "to send 'a strong message that we are not fucking around.' " Harville allegedly added, "The paper trail leads no where All their findings are speculative and they have to confer with police to get anything substantive which they probably would not be given."
On Aug. 30, the affidavit says, an eBay lawyer ordered Harville to turn in his company phone - and to not delete anything on it. He turned it in, but after deleting much of what was on it, the affidavit says, adding that FBI forensics experts later determined that he'd deleted all of the phone's iMessages, contacts and Web browsing activity related both to the Boston security conference that was to be Zea's alibi and a link to the online police scanner for Natick.
EBay put him, Baugh and one minion on immediate administrative leave. That night, Baugh messaged another underling: "It's all good...you just need to stay clean and you and I never spoke."