NATICK, Mass. – In a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Boston Wednesday, a Massachusetts couple said they feared for their lives after a harassment campaign of terror and threats by eBay officials.
In the 12-count federal civil suit, Ina and David Steiner of Natick, Massachusetts, allege the harassment campaign began in August 2019.
“The Steiners were paralyzed with fear,” according to the lawsuit. “The unrelenting stream of threats to kill, disturbing deliveries, as well as the physical surveillance caused the Steiners to suffer from significant and continuing emotional distress, including but not limited to, anxiety, panic attacks, persistent and debilitating concerns about their physical safety, habitual insomnia, embarrassment, humiliation, shame and perpetual fear that they are being followed and tracked, all of which suffering continues now and will continue in the future.”
The suit was filed against eBay, Progressive F.O.R.C.E. Concepts, former eBay CEO Devin Wenig, former eBay Vice President Steve Wymer and several others involved in eBay’s security department, including James Baugh, David Harville, Brian Gilbert, Stephanie Popp, Stephanie Stockwell, Veronica Zea and Philip Cooke, as well as a John and Jane Doe.
The Steiners run a website called Ecommercebytes. They ran negative articles about eBay, angering company executives, according to the lawsuit.
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The lawsuit alleges that Wenig and Wymer, angered over the negative coverage, gave Baugh and his subordinates – Harville, Gilbert, Popp, Stockwell, Zea and Cooke – free rein to stop the Steiners from writing about eBay.
According to the lawsuit: “Defendant Wymer promised the Defendants he would, ‘embrace managing any bad fallout’ if the plan went south, further directing, ‘We need to STOP her.’ The events that followed shock the conscience, and demonstrate the utter depths eBay would stoop to in order to take the Steiners down and their reporting on eBay.”
Ina and David Steiner say they were cyberstalked, harassed
The lawsuit alleges that the defendants created fake names on Twitter, then threatened Ina Steiner.
The harassment allegedly progressed to the defendants mailing packages of live spiders, cockroaches, a bloody pig mask and a book about dealing with the death of a spouse to the Steiners' home.
Using David Steiner's name, the defendants had subscriptions to pornographic magazines sent to the Steiners' neighbors to try to discredit him, the lawsuit alleges.
As the online messages became more threatening, the couple became so scared, they installed security cameras and rarely left the home. They slept in separate bedrooms in case someone broke in, so one could escape if the other was attacked.
“It was just terrifying,” Ina Steiner said at a news conference Wednesday at the Moakley Courthouse in Boston. “We were attacked online, we were doxxed, we were sent intimidating packages, threats, intimidation. So we were really very afraid and saw how it affected me and how it affected David.”
The couple said the harassment included advertisements on Craigslist for sex parties at their home, including the address and instructions to walk in any time of day.
In June 2020, after a lengthy investigation by Natick police and federal investigators, six of the defendants – Baugh, Harville, Gilbert, Popp, Stockwell and Zea – were arrested. All but Baugh and Harville pleaded guilty in the harassment.
The Steiners' attorney Rosemary Scapicchio said at the news conference this was not a case of rogue employees going too far.
"I just want to make clear that the directives, in this case, came from the top," Scapicchio said. "The directives, in this case, to stop the Steiners and intimidate the Steiners came from the top management of eBay."
The lawsuit alleges 12 separate counts, including intentional infliction of emotional distress, stalking, violation of the civil racketeering act, conspiracy, defamation and false imprisonment.
The lawsuit seeks legal fees, damages and relief in an amount to be determined at trial.
“Firing employees after the fact isn't enough. Send that message to corporate America," Scapicchio said.
This article originally appeared on MetroWest Daily News: eBay lawsuit: Massachusetts couple sue over threats, harassment