It's been over 2 years since Ina and David Steiner, the editor and publisher of EcommerceBytes, filed their civil lawsuit in the eBay cyberstalking case and now it appears justice could still be years away as U.S. District Judge Patti B. Saris has set a tentative trial date for March 2025.
The scandal exposed a bizarre corporate plot which targeted the Steiners in an attempt to change their coverage of eBay and persuade them to unmask the identity of unsuckEBAY (also known as Fidomaster and Dan Davis), an anonymous source and commenter who sparked the ire of top executives at the company.
Documents from the criminal and civil cases have revealed sordid details of the harassment that included disturbing deliveries of live insects, bloody pig masks and funeral wreaths as well as threatening messages, doxxing, which ultimately escalated to in-person stalking and an attempted break-in at the hands of eBay security personnel.
Senior Director Security Jim Baugh, Director of Global Resiliency David Harville, Security Manager Philip Cooke, Senior Manager of Global Intelligence Stephanie Popp, Global Intelligence Manager Stephanie Stockwell and a contracted security analyst Veronica Zea all pleaded guilty and have been sentenced for their roles in the crimes.
Senior Manager of Special Operations Brian Gilbert, also pleaded guilty but has had his sentencing postponed as he has been diagnosed with colorectal cancer.
The civil lawsuit names the seven criminal defendants as well as eBay Inc., ex-CEO Devin Wenig, ex-Communications Chief Steve Wymer, ex-SVP Global Operations Wendy Jones, security company Progressive F.O.R.C.E Concepts (PFC) and PFC's CEO Steve Krystek, alleging direction and support for the harassment came from the very top of both companies.
Last week's hearing on motions to dismiss by eBay,Wenig, Wymer, Jones, PFC and Krystek highlighted how complex and confusing this case has become, with 13 defendants named in a sprawling 123 page complaint alleging 14 different causes of action and multiple voluminous filings including records from the previous criminal cases.
The civil case was originally assigned to Judge Douglas P. Woodcock, who reassigned the matter to Judge Saris earlier this year.
Toward the beginning of arguments, Judge Saris interjected to advise the attorneys she had presided over the criminal cases for Baugh and Harville and was familiar with many aspects of the case, stating:
I should say for the record...I actually know this case really well because I had extensive criminal proceedings involving two of the people who were charged, Mr. Baugh and Mr. Harville, some of the more prominent people alleged here.
So some of the facts you can assume I know.
However, the almost 3 hour hearing revealed there appears to be significant confusion about key points of the case among all involved (including the judge) and much of what is being assumed to be known is not supported by previously submitted documents in either this case or the various criminal cases - including those of Baugh and Harville over which Saris presided.
During the hearing both the plaintiffs' attorney, Rosemary Scapicchio, and Judge Saris became confused or mixed up Wenig and Wymer multiple times when discussing important aspects of eBay's internal investigation into the events, to the point that Wenig's attorney felt the need to correct the record on behalf of his client.
...the plaintiffs point out an August 6th exchange. In which, for example, at the end, Mr. Wymer says, do what it takes and the plaintiffs do what they do all the time, they lump all the defendants together.
And you said, sometimes you mistake 1 of the W's from another. It's my job to distinguish those W's and every other individual defendant.
Judge Saris also became confused about Jones' role as SVP Global Operations at eBay, at one point believing she was a lawyer, which Jones' attorney, Andrew O'Connor had to step in to correct.
O'Connor: Plaintiffs added Miss Jones late in the game, but they lump her in with Mr. Wenig and Mr. Wymer and say she played some critical role in this criminal, bizarre conspiracy...One of the most eye catching allegations that plaintiffs say proves their case, or pleads it at least, is that Ms. Jones heard a recording of a harassing phone call to the Steiners. Now that would be...
Saris: So, can we back up? First of all, she's a lawyer, right? And she's the supervisor of Baugh. Would that be fair?
O'Connor: She's not a lawyer, and...
Saris: Oh, she wasn't Ms. Jones? I thought she was... No?
O'Connor: Ms. Jones is not a lawyer. No.
Saris: Right, right. But she's the supervisor, right?
O'Connor: Indeed. She is the supervisor.
Aside from difficulty keeping track of the named defendants and specific allegations against them, much of the confusion in this case seems to center around the timeline of events and how executive communications about Fidomaster/unsuckEBAY are related to the criminal actions that were taken against the Steiners.
Previous court documents show that Wenig had grown increasingly frustrated with EcommerceBytes' coverage of eBay and with the comments section where sellers and buyers often raised questions and concerns, aired sometimes critical opinions, or sought to bring important business impacting issues to light.
Commentary on corporate issues was of particular interest to eBay, such as mass layoffs and a management shakeup in 2018 or an article about Wenig's oversized compensation package (earning 152 times the average eBay employee at the time) in April 2019.
This was especially true after activist investor Elliott Management went on the attack in January 2019 with a public letter to eBay's Board of Directors calling for a portfolio review, renewed focus on the core marketplace and improved operational execution.
That frustration hit new highs in early 2019 as Fidomaster/unsuckEBAY made waves posting comments on EcommerceBytes, in the eBay community forums, on Twitter and elsewhere across the web, scrutinizing eBay's business practices and leadership misexecution.
As executive concern over these comments increased, Wymer tasked Baugh with conducting an in-depth investigation of FidoMaster/unsuckEBAY, looking to identify the person behind the account and trying to find any connection to EcommerceBytes.
In March 2019, in response to a request from Executive 2, the GIC prepared a report for BAUGH summarizing the Account's discussions of eBay over the last year.
The report noted that FidoMaster1/Dan Davis was an "anonymous Twitter user that posts negative content about eBay and its senior leadership."
Regarding Fidomaster1/Dan Davis' relationship with the Newsletter, the report noted "the owner of this account corresponds regularly with [the Newsletter] editor [Victim 1] about issues pertaining to eBay. [Victim 1] and [the Newsletter] are known for publishing negative content about eBay and its executives."
One particular sore spot for the execs was a May 2019 EcommerceBytes article written about CEO Devin Wenig turning a historic house on the eBay campus into a replica of his favorite NYC bar in 2017, which many viewed as a questionable use of corporate resources.
unsuckEBAY/FidoMaster's amplification of the story on Twitter, and criticism of what he called Wenig's "self-indulgent vanity project", also caught eBay's attention.
The executive leadership team was so concerned about the optics of the story, Jones requested to "huddle" about the matter over lunch.
According to Baugh's legal team:
At the lunch meeting, Jones asked Mr. Baugh if he could find a way to deal with the issue “off the radar since comms and legal couldn’t handle it.”
Jones told Mr. Baugh, “Just get it done. I don’t want to know the details, just make sure you sync with Wymer.” Mr. Baugh thereafter provided regular updates to Jones.
One detail that neither side has so far mentioned in any of their filings is that the May 2019 EcommerceBytes story about Walker's West contained an update on 5/22/19 about details being removed from the contractrator's website, attributed to Dan Davis (Fidomaster/unsuckEBAY) and linking to a since deleted Twitter thread.
Update 5/22/19: As Dan Davis posted on this thread on Twitter, the page featuring details from the contractor who built the replica tavern on eBay's campus has been taken down since we published this post yesterday.
Importantly, Jones' request to "huddle over lunch" with Baugh about the matter was dated 5/23/19, which was after the details about the project had already been removed from the contractor's website.
During that same time, text messages between Wenig (Executive 1) and Wymer (Executive 2), showed increasingly amped up reactions to EcommerceBytes' coverage, including a message to "take her down."
On April 10, 2019, for example, Executive 2 texted Executive 1, "We are going to crush this lady, sending along a link to the Newsletter's coverage that day of Executive 1's compensation.
On April 20, 2019, discussing the Wall Street Journal's coverage of Executive 1, Executive 1 texted to Executive 2, "Fuck them. The journal is next on the list after [Victim 1]."
On May 31, 2019, commenting on the Newsletter's coverage of eBay that day, Executive 2 texted to Executive 1, "Shockingly reasonable..." Executive 1 replied, "I couldn't care less what she says." Seconds later, Executive 1 added, "Take her down."
Days later, on June 8, Gilbert traveled from California to Massachusetts to engage in an act of vandalism clearly intended as a warning - tagging the word "Fidomaster" on the Steiners' fence.
On June 8, 2019, co-conspirator Brian Gilbert spray painted “FidoMaster” on the Steiners’ fence. Mr. Baugh told Wymer that his team had given the Steiners “a tap on the shoulder.” Wymer expressed approval but did not ask questions.
In the immediate aftermath of the vandalism, the ELT was pleased, because they executives perceived that negative postings had subsided.
The pressure continued throughout June and July, with Baugh allegedly even receiving a text from Wenig's wife, complaining about comments that had been made by other posters on EcommerceBytes.
Interestingly, Wenig's team now claims this text was not sent to Baugh, though they have offered no explanation for how Baugh ended up with a copy of it - was it instead sent to one of the other defendants and simply forwarded to Baugh?
Also according to Baugh:
On or about July 19, 2019, Mr. Baugh met with Jones and played a recorded call between a security team member using a false identity and a subject associated with FidoMaster. Jones “fist bumped” Mr. Baugh.
Those two sentences are the extent of any mention in previous court documents about this "fist bump" call, which became another source of confusion in this week's hearing, due to pre-hearing filings mixing up who the call was about and the nature of the call.
Strangely, plaintiff's counsel attempted to present this two sentence allegation from Baugh as a "harassing" call that had been placed to the Steiners.
When Defendant Baugh kept Defendant Jones in the loop, and played a harassing call to the Steiners, Defendant Jones gave Defendant Baugh a fist bump, demonstrating her continued encouragement.
Source: Steiner et al v. eBay Inc. et al 1:21-cv-11181 Doc 221
Jones' attorney argued that was a bald misstatement of the allegations, saying:
The second substantive allegation as to Ms. Jones contends that she listened to a recording of a phone call between a security team member and a “subject associated with Fidomaster,” and later gave a “fist bump” to Mr. Baugh.
Ms. Jones pointed out in her Motion to Dismiss that a call to a Fidomaster associate had nothing to do with the Steiners, and there is not a single factual allegation in the Amended Complaint suggesting that Ms. Jones believed there was any such connection...
One cannot plausibly infer from the actual allegation—that Ms. Jones fist bumped Baugh after listening to a call with someone associated with Fidomaster, an individual Ms. Jones is not alleged to know had any association with the Steiners — that Ms. Jones thereby joined or directed a conspiracy against the Steiners.
Source: Steiner et al v. eBay Inc. et al 1:21-cv-11181 Doc 241
While there may not be any specific allegations in the complaint that Ms. Jones believed there was any association between Fidomaster/unsuckEBAY and the Steiners, the email regarding the Walker's West story that Jones sent less than 24 hours after the article was updated to include a link to a Fidomaster tweet (as well as other communications revealed in court documents) suggest it's at least plausible she may have believed there was a connection.
The timing of the "fist bump" call also coincides with a series of messages Fidomaster/unsuckEBAY began receiving, ironically also from an eBay security team member using a false identity, attempting to uncover any connection to the Steiners (as shown in these excerpts provided exclusively to Value Added Resource.)
Wenig (Executive 1) exchanged texts with Wymer (Executive 2) on August 1st, saying it was time to "take down" Ina Steiner. Wymer then forwarded that text to Baugh, expressing his "hatred" while committing to "embrace managing any bad fallout."
On August 1,2019, the New York Times published an article reporting that eBay had accused Amazon in a lawsuit of unlawfully poaching eBay sellers to Amazon's online marketplace.
That day, at approximately 1:46 p.m., Victim 1 posted an article on the Newsletter......Just half an hour later, at 2:19 p.m., Executive 1 texted Executive 2: "[Victim 1] is out with a hot piece on the litigation. If you are ever going to take her down..now is the time."
Executive 2 responded shortly afterward by text message: "On it."
As set forth below, a series of text messages followed between Executive 2 and Baugh, beginning with Executive 1 's suggestion to Executive 2 that "we ... take her down".
On August 6, 2019 there was a flurry of emails starting with Wenig expressing his desire to see the Fidomaster/unsuckEBAY Twitter account shut down and assigning the task to Baugh, with Chief Legal Officer Marie Oh Huber and Wymer copied.
While Jones was not originally included in this email chain, excerpts from court documents show Baugh forwarded at least 2 of the emails to her.
At the same time, Baugh was also separately texting with Wenig about his efforts to out Fidomaster/unsuckEBAY and then copied Jones for "visibility."
On August 6, 2019, Wenig received another email complaint about FidoMaster. He sent the following email to Huber, Wymer, and Mr. Baugh: “First of all we should shut down the account. Second, this user name keeps popping up causing all kinds of trouble. Might be worth some research Jim.” Wymer responded that he had Mr. Baugh had been working on the issue. Huber and her colleagues responded that legal remedies were not and would not be effective...Mr. Baugh separately texted with Wenig:
Mr. Baugh then forwarded the thread to Jones (to provide “visibility,” keeping her in the loop). Jones responded with a “thumbs up.”
Source: USA v. Baugh 1:20-cr-10263 Doc 227
In the wake of those texts and the August 6th emails, several meetings were held to set in motion plans to ratchet up the investigation, start an aggressive harassment campaign against the Steiners, and ultimately to attempt a "White Knight Strategy" to try to earn good will with the victims and gain their cooperation in identifying Fidomaster/unsuckEBAY.
In the first of these meetings, BAUGH directed Popp, Stockwell, Zea, and Analysts 1, 2, and 3 to anonymously harass Victims 1 and 2...
...BAUGH called the harassment a "distraction campaign" and suggested that scary masks, live insects, or embarrassing items, such as pornography and strippers, be sent to the Victims (and in some cases to their neighbors in the Victims' names)...
...in a separate meeting during the week of August 5th Baugh gathered Popp, Gilbert, and Supervisor 1 to plan another way to harass the Victims.
Specifically, Baugh, Popp, Gilbert, and Supervisor 1 planned to send a series of anonymous tweets and Twitter direct messages...the messages would gradually get more aggressive, culminating in the publication of the Victims’ home address...
...by design, these threatening messages would allow eBay—through Gilbert and another GSR employee—to approach the Victims with an offer of assistance to investigate and stop the threatening messages, thereby earning the Victims' trust, creating good will toward eBay, and getting the Victims' cooperation in identifying the author of the [unsuckeBay] Account. (This will be referred to in this affidavit as "the White Knight Strategy").
Source: Steiner et al v. eBay Inc. et al 1:21-cv-11181 Doc 1
Notably, US Attorney Seth Kosto explicitly called out the White Knight Strategy to out Fidomaster/unsuckEBAY as particularly egregious, abhorrent to First Amendment values and cause for significant sanction in his sentencing memorandum in the criminal case against Cooke.
First, Cooke and his coconspirators targeted the Victims based on what they had written and published, and because they had made space for others to publish in comments beneath the Newsletter’s articles. Journalism about public companies, especially the world’s largest ecommerce brands, is important to investors, merchants, and customers alike.
That some at eBay disagreed with the Newsletter’s coverage, and that Baugh shared that sentiment as justification to target the Victims, is abhorrent to First Amendment values.
While there is no good reason to harass and intimidate anyone, the logic that led to the Victims’ suffering is absurd. Accepting for purposes of argument that Cooke and others were focused on Fidomaster and his online critiques, they harassed the Victims as a means of identifying and discrediting Fidomaster. That Cooke and others targeted innocent third parties is worthy of significant sanction...
...Cooke asserts that, in the August 6 meeting, he tried to talk his colleagues out of at least some parts of the harassment campaign. But what remained, even in his telling, was a series of increasingly harassing messages directed to a journalist, to set up a sting, to enable Gilbert to make a false offer of assistance, to predispose Victim 1 to help eBay with its Fidomaster problem.
Source: USA v. Cooke 1:20-cr-10126 Doc 21
Baugh's team put the plan into action swiftly, with multiple phases to be stretched out over several weeks.
In a third set of planning meetings in early August 2019, Baugh recruited Harville and Zea to travel to Boston to physically surveil Victims 1 and 2 at their home and in their community. The purported purpose of the trip was to find evidence that the Victims and the author of [unsuckEBAY] were collaborating to publish negative content about eBay...
Court documents list a series of frightening messages and deliveries the victims received beginning August 7, 2019 (excerpted below):
Beginning on August 7, 2019, as described below, the Victims began to experience what BAUGH had directed: a stream of harassing, embarrassing, and disturbing deliveries. Victim 1 similarly began to receive a torrent of tweets and direct messages directed by BAUGH, drafted by Popp, and approved by Gilbert and Supervisor 1, in furtherance of the White Knight Strategy.
That day, Victim 1 received a Twitter private message from an account with username and display name that she did not recognize, the Tui_Elei Account.
The private message asked her what her problem was with eBay. When Victim 1 did not respond, the private messages from the Tui_Elei Account escalated, asking "HELLO!!!!!!"; "WTF ...ru there??"; "im waiting... i don't like waiting"; "WTF whats it goin to take for u to answer me??"; and "I guess im goin to have to get ur attention another way bitch.. ."
On or about August 8, 2019, at approximately 11:00 p.m. (ET), Victim 1's mail inbox was flooded over the course of an hour with dozens of emails and newsletters that she had not signed up for (for example, emails with the subjects "the Communist Party"; "the Satanic Temple"; and "Cat Faeries").
On or about August 10, 2019, Victims 1 and 2 began to receive a series of home deliveries that they had not ordered including a Halloween mask featuring a bloody pig face. Victim 1 received a message from the Tui_Elei Account asking "DO I HAVE UR ATTENTION NOW????"
On August 12,2019, Victim 2 received from Amazon the death-themed…entitled "Grief Diaries: Surviving the Loss of a Spouse.” The Tui_Elei Account continued messaging Victim 1 that day, asking her what her problem was with eBay.
On August 13, 2019, Victim 2 received a voicemail message in response to his purported interest in opening an Adam & Eve sex toys franchise. (Victims 1 and 2 reported to the NPD that Victim 2 had not expressed such interest).
On August 14, 2019, Victims 1 and 2 received a package from Carolina Biological Supply in Burlington, North Carolina that, according to the company, contained fly larvae and live spiders.
On August 14, 2019, Victims 1 and 2 also received a box of cockroaches sent from Dubia Roaches of Wichita, Kansas.
On August 15, 2019, pornography entitled "Hustler: Barely Legal" arrived at the homes of two of the Victims' neighbors; the packages had Victim 2s name on them.
On August 15, 2019, a Cambridge, Massachusetts florist delivered a "sympathy" wreath to the Victims' home, another death-themed delivery.
Source: Steiner et al v. eBay Inc. et al 1:21-cv-11181 Doc 1 Exhbit A
The deliveries continued until the security team stopped in preparation for the next phase, which would include in-person surveillance, stalking and an attempt to break into the garage to install a GPS tracker on the Steiners' vehicle.
All of these events are well documented in the criminal cases and leave a clear breadcrumb trail between frustration with the tone/content of EcommerceBytes coverage, executive communications about Fidomaster/unsuckEBAY's comments, and the eventual criminal acts that were undertaken by members of eBay's security team against the Steiners - and more could be revealed over the next year as the case winds its way through the discovery process, if the case does not settle.
The Steiners and eBay have been engaged in mediation since January 2022, but have so far been unable to come to any agreement on a settlement and there has been no indication of settlement even being broached with the other defendants.
The hearing last week ended with encouragement to all sides to find a path forward to settle at least some of the claims in order to narrow down the scope of possible trial, as a trial with 13 defendants would be "impossible" according to Judge Saris.
Motions to dismiss from the rest of the named defendants are also still in play and will be considered at a later date, though the claims against those who have pleaded guilty in the criminal cases will likely not be tossed and instead could go to summary judgement to clear the way for a more streamlined trial in 2025.