EBay Faces Criminal Charges in Cyberstalking Case, U.S. Authorities Say

The Justice Department accused eBay on Thursday of stalking, witness tampering and obstruction of justice in a rare criminal case against a well-known Silicon Valley company. The charges would be dismissed under a deferred prosecution agreement if eBay maintains a good record for three years. The charges stem from actions eBay took in 2019 to undermine and silence the writers of an e-commerce newsletter slightly critical of its behavior.

In the agreement with the government, eBay will engage an independent corporate compliance monitor and pay a criminal penalty of $3 million. The maximum fine for its six felony offenses. The government will not move ahead with the case unless eBay violates the agreement. eBay had more than $5 billion in cash on hand and the $3 million penalty is not consequential.

“EBay engaged in absolutely horrific, criminal conduct,” said Joshua S. Levy, the acting attorney general. “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 and protecting the eBay brand.”

During the harassment campaign, eBay security team members flew to Boston to accelerate their activities against the couple in-person. The forms of harassment included threatening direct messages over Twitter, attempts to install a GPS device on the Steiners’ car, posting ads for fictitious sexual events at the Steiners’ house, and sending anonymous and scary items like a bloody pig’s mask to the couple’s home.

A 24-page document detailing the government’s charges that was released on Thursday broadens the number of eBay executives in the case. In earlier documents, only two executives were mentioned — the chief executive and the chief communications officer. Now there is a third executive, identified as eBay’s senior vice president for global operations.

The Steiners said in a statement on their website that eBay targeted them “because we gave eBay sellers a voice and because we reported facts that top executives didn’t like publicly laid bare.” Seven individuals who worked for eBay’s corporate security team were arrested for their actions against the Steiners in 2020. Six of them were sentenced to either prison or home confinement.

“The company’s conduct in 2019 was wrong and reprehensible,” said Jamie Iannone, eBay’s chief executive, in a statement on the company website. He added that eBay “remains committed to upholding high standards of conduct and ethics and to making things right with the Steiners.” The Steiners’ efforts to reach a settlement with eBay collapsed long ago. The couple filed a lawsuit against eBay that is scheduled to go to trial next year.

“The Steiners’ goal was always to have the government hold all of those involved held criminally responsible, and this is a step in the right direction,” their lawyer, Rosemary Scapicchio, said on Thursday.

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