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Natick couple terrorized in eBay pig-mask campaign sue auction giant

Bloody-pig-head mask and grief book

Bloody-pig-head mask and grief book, ordered on Amazon, not eBay, and sent to the couple.

Two Natick residents who found themselves under attack by a group of eBay executives and their underlings upset with what they wrote about the company say it's not enough that several of the conspirators have pleaded guilty - the company itself needs to pay for what happened to them.

Five now former eBay employees face sentencing - one on July 27th, the others on Sept. 30- for their role in the campaign against Ina and David Steiner, who run a news Web site that focuses on eBay and similar online commerce ventures, which included sending the couple packages including a bloody-face pig mask - the last thing victims in the horror movie "Saw" would see before their slaughter - live spiders, maggots and cockroaches, a funeral wreath and a book on surviving a spouse's death. They also sent the couple obscene messages and death threats on Twitter - and had pornography sent to their neighbors with the Steiners' names attached.

The campaign also included flying several of the minions to Boston, where they tried to surveil the couple - and put a GPS device on David Steiner's car - and then lied to a Natick police detective who proved not to be as stupid as the Silicon Valley goons thought he was, because he started the investigation that led to their arrests and indictments in federal court.

Two more eBay executives have decided not to plead guilty; they face a status hearing on July 29 in US District Court in Boston. After news of the investigation spread west, eBay CEO Devin Wenig, who was implicated in some of the text messages captured by the FBI, resigned. However, he was never indicted - and the company now claims the entire thing was done without its knowledge.

But the Steiners do name Wenig as a defendant in their racketeering lawsuit, filed today in US District Court in Boston - along with all the eBay executives and underlings who were indicted last year and Progressive F.O.R.C.E.Concepts, a California-based detective agency that allegedly worked with eBay on its campaign. The Steiners are represented by veteran criminal-defense attorney Rosemary Scapicchio.

Some of the Twitter messages sent to Ina Steiner from an account set up and run by one of the eBay employees:

Expletive filled Twitter DMs to Ina Steiner

Their complaint, which alleges "a coordinated effort to intimidate, threaten to kill, torture, terrorize, stalk and silence the Steiners, in order to stifle their reporting on eBay," draws on documents filed in the federal criminal case against the now admitted cyberterrorists and the two who have not yet pleaded guilty, in particular a detailed affidavit by an FBI agent on the case. After describing the packages and tweets that came their way, they say:

The Defendants, including but not limited to Defendants Zea and Harville, carrying out the orders of eBay senior executives, menacingly stalked and tailed the Steiners in a black van and other rental vehicles, repeatedly circling the block, tracking their every move, and following David Steiner when he left the residence. The Defendants even went as far as to attempt to break into the Steiner garage in order to install a GPS tracking device on their vehicle. The Defendants, including but not limited to Baugh, Harville and Zea, had practiced installing a tracking device on a similar vehicle in California, in an eBay parking lot, for this specific purpose. Simultaneously, the Defendants who remained in California, including but not limited to Defendants Popp, Stockwell, Cooke and Gilbert, continued with the online threats and stalking, and their menacing skull avatar Twitter handle began publicly posting the Steiners’ home address on Twitter along with threats to kill the Steiners. The Defendants also posted the Steiner’s address on Craigslist and other websites, inviting strangers to the Steiners’ home for sex parties, and advertising yard sales, announcing that would-be visitors should knock on the door at all hours because "Everything must go!"

Fearing for their lives, the Steiners installed surveillance cameras to monitor anyone approaching their home. The Steiners manned the surveillance footage at all hours of the day and night, and stayed in separate bedrooms so that if any of the Defendants broke into their home or attacked one of the Steiners, the other could escape and call for help.

The Steiners were paralyzed with fear. Their calls to the local police grew more frequent, which Defendants Zea and Popp, at the direction of Defendant Baugh, monitored with a police scanner in an attempt to stay one step ahead of both the Steiners and any law enforcement. The Defendants knew the panic and fear they were inflicting on the Steiners by carrying out Defendants Wenig and Wymer’s plan, which only fueled their fire: they praised one another that their "work" was accomplishing their goal of intimidating, hreatening, torturing, terrorizing, stalking and silencing the Steiners. The Defendants callously joked that the Steiners were "seeing ghosts, think everyone is following them and they call the police every 10 minutes," and "We know the targets have been impacted by this op." Despite recognizing the mental and emotional anguish the Defendants were inflicting, the Defendants continued to persist with the conspiracy to intimidate, threaten, torture, terrorize, stalk and silence the Steiners.

Steiners were signed up to dozens of mailing lists and a threesome ad placed on Craigslist with their e-mail address:

Mailing lists from sex to Scientology
Craigslist threesome ad

And then, they continue:

Once the Defendants realized that the Natick Police Department ("NPD") was investigating the conspiracy, the Defendants plotted to destroy evidence, mislead the investigation, and divert attention away from eBay. Defendant Baugh called a meeting and directed the others to delete all communications and evidence relating to the scheme, and the Defendants persistently lied to investigators and fabricated evidence. Their cover-up attempts included efforts to create a fake dossier, and a phony "persons of interest" file on the Steiners to make them appear crazy, and ensure the Defendants could deflect their own blame when interacting with law enforcement.

Although CEO Wenig was not named in the criminal cases, he was as involved as anybody else, the Steiners allege:

Defendant Devin Wenig, then Chief Executive Officer of eBay, and Defendant Steven Wymer, then Senior Vice President and Chief Communications Officer of eBay, consistently tracked EcommerceBytes' reporting, and became increasingly enraged by what they perceived as the Steiners' negative coverage of eBay and the upper echelons of the corporation.

eBay, through its Chief Executive leadership, sent a directive and enlisted at least seven members of the eBay security staff – Defendants James Baugh, David Harville, Brian Gilbert, Stephanie Popp, Stephanie Stockwell, Philip Cooke, and Veronica Zea, an eBay contractor employed by PFC, most of whom, on information and belief directly or indirectly reported to eBay's Head of Security and Operations – to deal with the Steiners. Defendants Wenig and Wymer provided the other Defendants with carte blanche authority to terminate the reporting of the Steiners by whatever means necessary, with Defendant Wymer expressing "...I want to see ashes. As long as it takes. Whatever it takes." Defendant Wymer promised the Defendants he would, "embrace managing any bad fallout" if the plan went south, further directing, "We need to STOP her." All of the horrific, vicious and sickening conduct that followed was committed by employees of eBay and PFC, while acting in the scope of their employment under the authority of and for the benefit of eBay and PFC.

The Steiners are seeking an unspecified large amount of money to be determined at trial - times three - for their pain and suffering.

Complete complaint (1.3M PDF).

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Nice reporting Adam! Any idea - even in general terms - what the Steiners had posted on their site about eBay to get them SO pissed off?

Voting closed 57

But what really got on the thin-skinned eBayistas' nerves were the sort of anonymous comments their site allowed on articles, in particular one guy who commented a lot under the name FidoMaster, who often posted criticisms of the company and its internal policies, both on the site and on Twitter.

From the affidavit by the lead FBI agent on the case:

The anonymous comments were sometimes critical of eBay and its executive leadership team. At other times, the comments amounted to name-calling. For example, a May 2015 comment called eBay executives “liars” and “thugs” who should be jailed; a May 2017 comment called Executive 1 the devil; and an April 2018 comment stated that Executive 1 was “delusional.”

So when they began harassing the Steiners:

On or about June 8, 2019, Gilbert scribbled the word “Fidomaster” on the fence in front of the Victims’ home.

And, at first, the campaign seemed targeted at finding out who Fidomaster was and how he or she was connected to the Steiners.

But then, on Aug. 1, 2019, the Steiners reported on an article in the Times about eBay suing Amazon for allegedly poaching its sellers. Their story had this line: "[Executive 1] has been unable to stop a decline in market sales, but trying to dissuade sellers from turning to Amazon (and trying to get Amazon to stop recruiting sellers) may not be the best tactic." Executive 1? Wenig, the CEO.

Just half an hour later, at 2:19 p.m., Executive 1 texted Executive 2: "[Victim 1] is out with a hot piece on the litigation. If you are ever going to take her down..now is the time."

Executive 2 responded shortly afterward by text message: "On it."

Victim 1 is Ina Steiner, and that's when things started getting really disturbing.

Voting closed 38

Sounds like a real BostonDog.

Voting closed 30

But doesn't Section 230 , which is the law that prevents websites from being held liable for user-created content, such as comment sections apply here?

I get Section 230. I sure would hope eBay execs would too. Why go after the Steiners? Other than the fact that they have moderator access to **remove** comments. But why go to such extent, why not just sue for that instead of taking this to a whole new level?

Voting closed 23

As for why eBay did this? I'm not a lawyer, or a psychologist or anything, but if I had to bet, you're talking about a troubled man who thinks he is a god running a $47-billion corporation. Some people like that build giant penises that burst into the sky. And others decide to focus on crushing little people for sport.

Voting closed 60

giant penises that burst into the sky

That was great.

Voting closed 38

I don't think the mindset of the eBay people is that they were pissed off. I think they decided the Natick people were like a rival fraternity, and the eBay people got such a kick out of pulling pranks that they took it way too far.

Voting closed 30

the eBay people got such a kick out of pulling pranks that they took it way too far

The actions described are those of sociopaths. If you think they were "pranks", that's cause for concern.

Voting closed 60

LOL criminal threats and intimidation is so much harmless fun


Voting closed 42

You have access to the internet... go forth voyager and find the answers to your questions. I know, it may take 7... 10 seconds... but persevere!

Voting closed 23

The end product of achievement and meritocracy, talent and intellect selected by the perfection that is the corporate capitalist system!

Voting closed 37

Plus the Natick police had a nice hand in bringing the "masters" to heal.

Voting closed 30

but the Natick police are part of Big Government, the enemy of capitalism. Except when it's subservient to it.

Voting closed 23

When is Big Gov't not subservient to capitalism?

Voting closed 29

government was very, very big, and was not subservient to capitalism, of which there was very little. Neither was it subservient in China between 1949 and the 1980's. Since then the two have become nearly indistinguishable there, so that it is hard to say which is subservient to the other. In 1930's Germany, the Big Capitalists expected the Nazi government to be subservient to them, but were surprised to find themselves servants instead of masters. The welfare states of many western democracies, particularly in Europe, have a close but uneasy relationship with Capital. They are certainly influenced by it, but are only occasionally subservient to it.

Money can buy political power, and such power can be used to make more money, but there are other sources of political power, and other motives for its use.

Voting closed 23

I thought we were discussing the U$A.

Voting closed 27

Those are the guys who got hired through connections at the frat house.

Voting closed 26

I sometimes toss a side eye at some of these lawsuits that ask for money when a company makes a mistake that wasn't intentional and didn't cause that much harm.... But in this case yikes! This was a conspiracy that went right to the top and dealt directly with critics of the company. An example needs to be made. How does a company "know" something, doesn't it know when senior executives including the CEO know? If this stopped at some middle manager I would buy that but clearly this frat house er I mean company thought they were above the law.

Give the Steiner's a huge lump of cash. Half goes to them for putting up with this bullshit and half goes towards a fund for them to build up their reporting so they can focus on other tech companies too.

Voting closed 54

A *large* number of shares, enough to influence who is on their Board of Directors at the next election.

Voting closed 43

Normally, when I write about a lawsuit, I throw in a lot of caveats, like "alleged," "charged," "claims," etc.

But not this time. The complaint closely follows the FBI affidavit, which most of the people who were sued have admitted was true by pleading guilty to criminal charges.

It's kind of amazing that the facts are simultaneously horrifying and surreal. It would make a hell of a movie - it's too bad that Peter Falk is no longer around to play one of the ring members.

Voting closed 58

After walking away with a $57m package, Wenig is now on the board of GM making $300k+ a year.

Voting closed 27

Its somewhat comforting to know that executives can act like pendulant children sometimes.

But seriously, what kind of special person do you have to be to go after these folks.. AND have minions do it.. AND to do it such an extent. OMG these people are loons.

I mean regardless of what is said.. its eBay. The largest online auction site (and the first). I don't think they had much to fear over a website that writes eCommerce news, even if it it is bad.

I mean anyone I know who buys or sells on eBay has their fair share of complaints about eBay itself. Any big company gets them and brushes them off most of the time.

These folks really had it out for the Steiner's (and really without merit, see my comment above to Adam). People need some serious help to take it to this level.

Voting closed 32

To know that sociopaths act like sociopaths? Your comment assumes that these monsters are better than us—why do you think that? Because they’re rich? Living on the Cape has taught you nothing.

Voting closed 28

You musta missed reading comprehension day at school.

That was a bit tongue & cheek. Not meant to taken literally.

Voting closed 35

deserves heavy penalty for this. corporations are not sovereigns--and ebay should be made an example of.

Voting closed 31