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 against them by eBay officials.
Ina and David Steiner, of Natick, Massachusetts, filed the 12-count federal civil suit after 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 Inc., Progressive F.O.R.C.E. Concepts LLC, former eBay CEO Devin Weing, 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 an online e-commerce website called Ecommercebytes. They had run negative articles about eBay, angering company executives, according to the lawsuit.
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Weing and Wymer, so angered over the negative press, gave Baugh and his subordinates – Harville, Gilbert, Popp, Stockwell, Zea and Cooke – free reign to do whatever they needed to do to stop the Steiners from writing about eBay.
“…Defendant Wymer expressing ‘…I want to see ashes. As long as it takes. Whatever it takes,’ 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
According to the lawsuit, the harassment began online, with the defendants creating fake names on Twitter and then threatening Ina Steiner.
The harassment reportedly progressed to the defendants mailing several items to the Steiners’ home, including packages of live spiders, cockroaches, a bloody pig mask and a book about dealing with the death of a spouse.
Using David Steiner’s name they had subscriptions to pornographic magazines sent to the Steiners’ neighbors to try to discredit him in their eyes, the lawsuit alleges.
As the online messages became more and more threatening, the couple became so scared they installed security cameras, slept in separate bedrooms in case someone broke in so one could escape if the other was being attacked and rarely leaving the home.
“When we were attacked, it was just terrifying,” said Ina Steiner at a press 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 harassment also included posting advertisements on Craigslist for sex parties at the couple’s home, telling people the Steiners’ home address and that they could walk in any time of day the couple said.
“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,” according to the lawsuit.
Last June, after a lengthy investigation by Natick police and federal investigators, several of the defendants – Baugh, Harville, Gilbert, Popp, Stockville and Zea – were arrested. All but Baugh and Harville have plead guilty to their roles in the harassment.
Attorney Rosemary Scapicchio, speaking at the press conference, said 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 a trial.
“Firing employees after the fact isn’t enough. Send that message to corporate America,” Scapicchio said.