Six former eBay employees have been charged with orchestrating a terror campaign that sent live cockroaches and spiders to newsletter publishers who criticized the online auction site.
The alleged harassment also involved threatening messages, physical surveillance and other disturbing deliveries such as a preserved fetal pig, a funeral wreath, a bloody pig Halloween mask, a book on surviving the death of a spouse and pornography, federal prosecutors in Boston announced Monday.
The victims were a couple in Natick, Massachusetts, whose published critiques caught the eye of eBay’s executive leadership team, investigators said in the charging documents.
The executives, allegedly annoyed with the bad press, exchanged text messages in August 2019 suggesting it was time to “take down” the newsletter’s editor, investigators claim.
New York City resident David Harville, eBay’s former director of global resiliency, was one of the defendants arrested Monday.
Harville, 48, allegedly conspired in the three-part campaign with James Baugh, 45, the company’s former senior director of safety and security; Stephanie Popp, 32, eBay’s former senior manager of global intelligence; and Brian Gilbert, 51, the company’s former senior manager of special operations for the global security team, among others.
After targeting the Natick couple with anonymous abuse on Twitter, the defendants intended to have Gilbert, a former Santa Clara police captain, approach the victims to say the company noticed the digital harassment and wanted to offer assistance, investigators said.
In what officials called a “white knight strategy,” the defendants allegedly hoped the gesture to help would promote good will towards eBay and generate more favorable coverage in the newsletter.
According to the complaint, Harville and another defendant also drove to the victims’ home in Natick in August 2019 after registering for a software development conference in Boston to provide a cover for their trip.
Prosecutors claim they intended “to break into the victims’ garage and install a GPS tracking device on their car.”
The victims spotted the surveillance and notified Natick police, who began to investigate, the charging documents state.
As authorities and eBay’s lawyers investigated, the defendants lied about their involvement and deleted digital evidence, obstructing what turned into a federal investigation, prosecutors said.
The charges of conspiracy to commit cyberstalking and conspiracy to tamper with witnesses filed against the defendants each carry a sentence of up to five years in prison, three years of supervised release, a fine of up to $250,000 and restitution.
Joseph Bonavolonta, the FBI special agent in charge of the investigation, said Monday the ham-handed plot involved burner phones and laptops, overseas email accounts and pre-paid debit cards purchased with cash.
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