eBay Employees Face Sentencing In Cyberstalking - But What About Corporate Accountability?
Ex-security analyst Veronica Zea was sentenced to 2 years probation and a $5,000 fine. The final defendant, Brian Gilbert, has had his sentencing indefinitely postponed due to being diagnosed with colorectal cancer.
Federal Bureau of Prisons records indicated ex-Security Manager Philip Cooke Register Number 23880-509 was released on 10-21-22 after serving ~13 months of his 18 month sentence.
Stephanie Popp, eBay’s former Senior Manager of Global Intelligence, was sentenced to one year and one day in prison and two years of probation.
Stephanie Stockwell, former manager of eBay’s Global Intelligence Center, was sentenced to two years of probation, with one year to be served in home confinement.
Senior Manager Special Operations Brian Gilbert and security analyst Veronica Zea are expected to be sentenced next month.
Baugh was sentenced to 57 months in prison, 2 years of supervised release and a $40K fine.
Harville was sentenced to 2 years in prison, 2 years of supervised release, and a $20,000 fine with the judge taking into account his prior military service and first-time offender status.
eBay's ex-Director of Global Resiliency David Harville and ex-security director Jim Baugh face sentencing today for their roles in the cyberstalking and harassment campaign that targeted critics of the company.
Both filed pre-sentencing memos earlier this week, full of letters of reference from friends, family and past employers as well as letters from the defendants themselves and background material submitted by their lawyers in an attempt to convince the judge to opt for lesser sentences than the US attorney's office is seeking.
Harville cited his past Army service in Desert Storm as well as a career in security working for some of the largest tech companies in the world and providing security services for the Super Bowl and Oscars - saying the professional reputation he worked so hard to create has now been destroyed.
From January 2002 to June 2020, Mr. Harville worked almost exclusively in the security profession, earning as much as $276,000 per year. When he lost his job (and his profession) after his Indictment, he and his wife lost their home in New York and moved in with her relatives in Las Vegas.
While [they] lived in a spare bedroom for over 18 months, Mr. Harville took the only job he could get, loading boxes in a warehouse for an hourly wage. Rather than feel sorry for himself, he took to the job with enthusiasm and vigor and was quickly promoted to warehouse supervisor earning $50,000 a year. He fears and anticipates losing that job after his sentencing.
He acknowledged guilt, says he accepts full responsibility for his actions and apologized to the victims, Ina and David Steiner of EcommerceBytes, but that didn't stop his legal team from trying to make a case that he should serve no time in federal prison and should be granted probation or house arrest instead, drawing a line between his work surveilling the Steiners in August 2019 and the rest of the scheme.
While the cyberstalking crime is extremely serious, Mr. Harville's participation in the conspiracy was limited. Mr. Harville was not involved in, and did not have knowledge of, any of the meetings involving Baugh and his other co-conspirators to plan the harassment and delivery campaign and the white knight strategy.
Prosecutors say Harville had "significant roles in the victim's terror and the obstruction that followed," and should be sentenced to 41 months in prison, followed by three years supervised release and a $25,000 fine.
Baugh also provided character references as well as details of his career history including working at Microsoft as a protection agent for the Chairman and CEO, work for the National Clandestine Service of the CIA, independent security consulting for the Gates Foundation, and various high-profile protection details including then-Vice President Joe Biden at the 2016 Oscars.
He also took responsibility, apologized to the victims and his legal team is seeking 30 months imprisonment followed by 36 months of supervised release - the government is recommending 71 months in prison, three years of supervised release and a $60,000 fine.
Baugh's legal team was much more direct in calling out the high level corporate players they allege to have pressured Baugh into doing "whatever it takes" when "ordinary lawyer tools" were not an effective option.
But with all due respect to the government’s sentencing arguments, Mr. Baugh should not be sentenced as the “face” of eBay, subject to a high-end “Guideline” term of imprisonment because this case involved the “resources of a Fortune 500 company” used to inflict a “three-week nightmare” on “a Natick couple, whose journalism had angered two of the company’s most senior executives.”
Yes, the Steiners suffered terribly, did not deserve it, and continue to struggle in the aftermath. Yes, Mr. Baugh is accountable for his actions, “knew better,” and should have acted accordingly. Yes, Mr. Baugh is the most senior eBay employee the government chose to prosecute, and bears an extra measure of responsibility for his supervisory role. But stopping there ignores the broader reality of what happened. Mr. Baugh had no personal animus against the Steiners, no psychotic pleasure in fostering fear, no desire to inflict harm for its own sake, and no disdain for “First Amendment values.”
Rather, from his cubicle adjacent to the private offices in the insular, high-pressure environment of a Silicon Valley C-Suite, Mr. Baugh was convinced to view the Steiners (wrongly, he recognizes in hindsight) not as journalists but as dangerous “trolls” who posed an existential threat to the company and even to the physical safety of its employees.
Mr. Baugh faced intense, relentless pressure from multiple executives (who have evaded criminal responsibility), including the CEO Devin Wenig, SVP Steve Wymer, COO Wendy Jones, and General Counsel Marie Huber, to do something, anything, about the “threat” which, they knew and told Mr. Baugh repeatedly, could not be solved through ordinary “lawyer” tools.
In an odd twist, much of the most troubling evidence has been presented in Baugh's cross claim filed in the civil case seeking to hold eBay liable for any damages because, in Baugh's words, he was simply doing the job for which they had hired him and his legal team believes he should be indemnified under CA labor law.
An email chain between Baugh and those executives was released in recent court documents, showing months-long simmering frustration about EcommerceBytes articles and member comments boiling over as pressure mounted to identify and locate unsuckEBAY/FidoMaster - an anonymous online persona that posted about eBay on the blog, Twitter and other sites.
According to arguments by Baugh's legal team:
The email that Wymer sent on August 7, 2019...was written in response to an earlier email that an in-house eBay attorney sent to Wymer, Huber, and Mr. Baugh, about the limited options for addressing...tweets about eBay, which the company believed were connected to, or provoked by, the Newsletter.
The full thread makes clear that Huber and Aaron Johnson in eBay’s legal department requested that Mr. Baugh regularly update the company’s senior executives about “any news/developments on [his] end.” That is exactly what happened.
During a lengthy discussion by email about @unsuckebay...Mr. Baugh reported to Wenig, Wymer, and Huber that the security department was working to gather “information regarding [the poster’s] identity and location”.
In the same thread, Wymer mentioned corporate and legal efforts to “get [@unsuckebay] killed.”
Source: USA v. Baugh 1:20-cr-10263 Doc 79
In the August 6th emails, CEO Devin Wenig expressed his desire to see the unsuckEBAY Twitter account shut down - assigning the task to Baugh, with Chief Legal Counsel Marie Oh Huber and Communications Director Steve Wymer copied.
Wymer responded, confirming he had previously discussed the issue with Baugh and explored all angles with Twitter but had been unable to get the account killed.
Huber echoed the frustration, but her and another member of eBay legal, Aaron Johnson, advised there wasn't a strong claim to appeal to Twitter to take action.
Baugh appeared to be trying to placate his bosses by offering that his team had been investigating for weeks and were close to discovering the identity and location of unsuckEBAY.
Huber accepted that answer with a smiley face emoji, saying she would hold off on pursuing further legal steps in light of Baugh's investigation.
However, Wymer added more fuel to the fire the next day by making it very clear how utterly vexed by the situation he was, saying any effort to "solve" the problem should be explored...Whatever. It. Takes.
To put the emails from August 6-7 2019 in perspective, it's important to understand some of the events that preceded them as well as the escalation of cyberstalking and harassment that followed.
Some of the emails discussing Fidomaster/unsuckEBAY and/or Ecommercebytes go back to June 2018, suggesting executive frustration had been building for over a year prior to this email chain.
Court documents also allege Wymer requested for Baugh to conduct an in-depth investigation of the FidoMaster/unsuckEBAY Twitter account in March 2019.
In May 2019, the executive leadership team (ELT) was reportedly concerned about an article that had been published about Devin Wenig turning a historic house on the eBay campus into a replica of his favorite New York bar, Walker's West, and SVP Global Ops Wendy Jones (Baugh's direct supervisor) 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.
By June 2019, things escalated when Senior Manager Special Operations Brian Gilbert traveled from California to Massachusetts to engage in an act of vandalism clearly intended as a warning - painting the word "FidoMaster" on the victims' fence.
When that warning failed to produce results, the investigation reportedly intensified, including a plot to use a fake Twitter account to try to lure FidoMaster/unsuckEBAY into an in person meeting.
In July and early August 2019...members of eBay's executive leadership team and others increased pressure on BAUGH to address both the Newsletter and the Account.
In mid-July 2019...BAUGH tasked the GIC with identifying the author of the Account. BAUGH stated that identifying Fidomaster was a top priority coming from eBay's executive leadership, including Executive 1 [Wenig] and Executive 2 [Wymer].
BAUGH directed the GIC to find evidence that the Victims and the Account were collaborating to publish negative content about eBay, including by using a fake social media account to attempt to trick Fidomaster into admitting a connection with Victim 1. The GIC never found such evidence.
Source: Steiner et al v. eBay Inc. et al 1:21-cv-11181 Doc 1
UnsuckEBAY did not take the bait, instead advising "Marissa" (the fake account allegedly run by eBay GIC) to speak to a qualified attorney, as shown in screenshots provided exclusively to Value Added Resource by unsuckEBAY.
Newly released text messages between Wenig and Baugh appear to implicate Baugh as the person behind the anonymous "Marissa" account. SVP Global Operations Wendy Jones was allegedly then copied in on the text and replied with a thumbs up.
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.”
The emails, texts, smiling emojis and thumbs up have caused some, including the victims, to question why hasn't more been done to hold the executives involved accountable?
eBay's internal investigation determined Wenig and Wymer's tone and communications were "inappropriate" but not, they believed, criminal. It would appear the US Attorney's office agreed.
Wymer was fired by eBay for cause in September 2019 but landed a new gig a year later as CEO of the Boys & Girls Club of the Silicon Valley - announced on Twitter with his signature "whatever it takes" hashtag.
Wenig resigned and was allowed to take a $57 million golden parachute on his way out, blaming conflict with the board and activist investors - news of the scandal had not yet been made public.
The internal investigation also found "no wrongdoing" in regards to Wendy Jones, despite the fact she was Baugh's immediate supervisor. Not only that, she was allowed to continue in her role as SVP Global Ops through December 2020 - well into current CEO Jamie Iannone's first year back at the company.
When she departed, she took an $11M+ severance package, in addition to the $11M bonus Wenig had granted her for 2018, $8M of which was earmarked as a retention bonus.
Marie Oh Huber is still eBay's Chief Legal Officer and, as a result of eBay's internal investigation, the Safety & Security unit was moved to the Legal Department from Global Operations division.
That unit now reports to eBay Legal VP, Chief of Litigation, who of course reports to the Chief Legal Officer - meaning the entire security apparatus at eBay now resides ultimately under Huber's purview.
Jones and Huber were not named either criminally or in the ongoing civil suit against the seven named criminal defendants as well as Wenig, Wymer, Progressive F.O.R.C.E.Concepts, LLC and eBay Inc.
Aside from an apology letter from CEO Jamie Iannone in 2020, eBay has done very little to publicly acknowledge the failures in corporate governance that led to this debacle or take accountability in any meaningful way.
The civil suit was put on hold for 90 days in February 2022 to allow the parties to work out a settlement, but negotiations stalled and the case continues, with eBay and the other defendants filing motions to dismiss in hopes of avoiding being found liable or having to pay damages to the victims.
And despite the heavy drinking corporate culture at eBay being blamed by both Baugh and ex-security manager Philip Cooke for their "poor judgement" in participating in the cyberstalking and harassment campaign, it appears eBay may still be operating the on campus pub - having renamed it The Sellar in an apparent attempt to distance from Wenig's legacy.
On a personal note - my thoughts are with Ina and David Steiner as they head to court to make statements at the sentencing hearings today.
I sincerely hope in both the criminal and civil cases they find the justice they seek and I wholeheartedly echo their calls for accountability at all levels in this matter - whatever it takes.