Late last summer, an executive at eBay sent a series of text messages to James Baugh, who was the company’s senior director of safety and security at the time. “If we are ever going to take her down..now is the time,” the first message read, according to a screengrab of the thread. Later, the executive emphasized, “I want her DONE.” Baugh responded that he had a plan. And then he allegedly set it in motion.
A sweeping criminal complaint released Monday by the Massachusetts US Attorney’s Office details the unlikely, appalling consequences of that exchange. It charges six former eBay employees and contractors, including Baugh, with a cyberstalking campaign against the publishers of an ecommerce news site that covered the company. The objective: Get the publishers—a married couple living in Natick, Massachusetts—to stop writing negative stories about eBay, and figure out the identity of one particularly vociferous commenter. Their alleged methods were outrageous, as were their attempts to cover it up.
The harassment campaign was planned in a series of meetings, prosecutors say. In one, Baugh showed the assembled team a clip, according to a confidential witness cited in the complaint, of the movie Johnny Be Good, in which pranksters deliver increasingly absurd and unwelcome items to people’s homes. A brainstorm allegedly followed: What could they send to their victims that would terrify them? In a separate meeting, the complaint says, Baugh and a few others charted out a complementary social media strategy: They would send anonymous tweets and DMs to the couple, pretending to be angry eBay sellers and claiming responsibility for the deliveries. They would also eventually doxx the couple by publicly posting their home address.
“The result, as alleged in the complaint, was a systematic campaign, fueled by the resources of a Fortune 500 company, to emotionally and psychologically terrorize this middle-aged couple in Natick with the goal of deterring them from writing bad things online about eBay,” US attorney Andrew Lelling said in a press conference Monday morning. While the complaint does not identify the victims by name, it cites specific headlines and stories that indicate that Baugh and his team were after the husband and wife publishers of EcommerceBytes.
The harassment, prosecutors say, was not the only endgame. In a grotesque bit of 3-D chess, the eBay team allegedly responsible for the campaign planned to eventually step in and offer to help make it stop. This “white knight” strategy, as the criminal complaint calls it, was intended to create goodwill toward eBay, so that coverage would improve, and the victims would identify whoever was behind that troublesome commenter account.
The campaign unspooled over a few weeks in August. On August 7, a Twitter account that went by Tui_Elei, allegedly created by another defendant, sent a DM to the female victim asking what her problem was with eBay. When she did not respond, it continued to message her with increasingly crude language. The following evening, according to court documents, she found that someone had signed up her email account for dozens of email lists and newsletters; the subject headers included “the Satanic Temple” and “Cat Faeries.”
And then, on August 10, the deliveries started. First, an email confirming the order of a “Preserved Fetal Pig” that was on its way to the victims’ house. (The order was canceled, Lelling said Monday, after an inquiry from the vendor.) Later that same afternoon, Amazon delivered a Halloween mask of a bloody pig’s face. Fourteen minutes later, court documents say, the Tui_Elei Twitter account sent another DM: “DO I HAVE UR ATTENTION NOW????”
The complaint lays out a hellish timeline: On August 12, another Amazon delivery, a copy of the book Grief Diaries: Surviving the Loss of a Spouse. The next day, a voicemail for the second victim following up on a fabricated inquiry to open an Adam & Eve sex toy franchise. The next, a package of fly larvae and live spiders. Another containing live cockroaches. On August 15, two of the couple’s neighbors received copies of Hustler: Barely Legal in the husband’s name. That same day, a local florist delivered a funeral wreath to the couples’ home. The Tui_Elei account sent harassing messages throughout.
That’s also when, prosecutors say, the eBay team escalated to in-person surveillance; several of them allegedly flew out to Boston, checked in at the Ritz Carlton, and drove out that night to Natick intent on installing a GPS monitor on the couple’s Rav4. They had practiced, Lelling said Monday, on a similar model in the eBay parking lot before departure. The car was locked in the garage; the following day, eBay’s director of global resiliency at the time, David Harville, allegedly bought a screwdriver, painter’s tool, pry bar, and rubber gloves. “I believe based on my training and experience that these were the tools that Harville intended to use to break into the Victims’ garage,” FBI special agent Mark Wilson wrote in the criminal complaint.
On August 16, members of the eBay team allegedly tailed the couple in a rented Dodge Caravan. The surveillance team was listening to the local police dispatch; when the couple reported they were being followed, the crew peeled off. That night, court documents say, three of the defendants ran up a $750 bill at a Boston restaurant, batting around more potential deliveries like chain saws, human feces, and a dead rat. In the middle of the night, they sent an emergency plumber to the home.
The surveillance continued, prosecutors say, as did the harassment. A little after midnight on August 18, a classified ad appeared on Craigslist promoting a week-long “BLOCK PARTY” for “singles/couples/swingers” and listed the victims’ Natick address. Visitors were encouraged to arrive after 10 pm and to “knock on the door/ring the doorbell anytime of day or night.” That afternoon, the complaint says, the Tui_Elei account posted their names and address as well. A few minutes later, a direct message: “U get my gifts cunt!!??”
Two minutes later, another Craiglist posting advertising an “Everything must go!” estate sale at the same address. Just over an hour later, a third Craigslist ad: “Mature (50s) married couple seeking singles or other couples open to exploring threesomes, bdsm, cross dressing.”
The couple successfully got Twitter to suspend the Tui_Elei account for doxxing, but more popped up in its place—which prosecutors also have tied back to the eBay team.
“This was a determined, systematic effort by senior employees of a major company to destroy the lives of a couple in Natick, all because they published content the company executives didn’t like,” Lelling said at Monday’s press conference. “For a while they succeeded, psychologically devastating these victims for weeks as they desperately tried to figure out what was going on and stop it.”
On August 21, 11 days after the alleged harassment campaign began, two threads converged with relative speed, according to court documents. A member of the eBay group made contact with the couple as part of the next phase of the “white knight” strategy—and Natick police traced a rental car license plate number to an eBay contractor allegedly involved in the scheme.
As the Natick PD began making inquiries, the eBay employees and contractors scrambled over text messages to get their stories straight. When they realized that the gift cards they had purchased to fund their campaign could be traced back to Santa Clara, California, not far from eBay’s San Jose headquarters, they allegedly sought to “create a Samoan POI in Santa Clara,” according to a WhatsApp message quoted in the criminal complaint. (POI stands for “person of interest.”) “Then he becomes our primary suspect.”
It didn’t get that far. By August 22, the Natick police called in the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The eBay team allegedly continued to dissemble, both to law enforcement and to eBay’s own lawyers, who by August 26 had begun to conduct their own interviews about the matter. “As the police and eBay’s lawyers continued to investigate, the defendants allegedly deleted digital evidence that showed their involvement, further obstructing what had by then become a federal investigation,” the Massachusetts US Attorney’s office said in a press release Monday.
On August 30, the company placed three of the employees on administrative leave. In a statement posted on its website Monday, eBay said that it had “terminated all involved employees” in September 2019.
Former eBay CEO Devin Wenig also left the company that month. While he isn’t named in the criminal complaint, eBay confirmed that he is “Executive 1,” who allegedly gave the initial order to “take her down” (which was then relayed to Baugh by “Executive 2”).
“The 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’s statement says. “However, as the company previously announced, there were a number of considerations leading to his departure from the company.”
The six former eBay employees and contractors are all charged with conspiracy to commit cyberstalking and conspiracy to tamper with witnesses. Each charge carries a sentence of up to five years in prison, three years of supervised release, a fine of up to $250,000, and restitution.
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