eBay has been found criminally liable in connection to the 2019 cyberstalking of journalists Ina and David Steiner of Ecommercebytes, and agreed to pay a penalty of $3 million as part of a deal to defer further prosecution.
U.S. District Judge Patti B. Saris has ruled that eBay, several high-ranking former executives and others must continue to face civil claims in cyberstalking scandal that targeted Ina and David Steiner, the editor and publisher of EcommerceBytes, in an attempt to influence their reporting and gain their help to unmask the identity of Fidomaster/unsuckEBAY, 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 and 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 named 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.
Judge Saris has set a tentative trial date in 2025 and heard arguments for defendants' motions to dismiss at a hearing in August.
Those motions filed 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.
At this stage of the process, the court is tasked with determining whether the allegations as stated in the complaint are plausible enough to be allowed to move forward with discovery and eventually to a trial, if a settlement is not reached.
In her decision published this week, Judge Saris ruled much of the complaint meets that standard of plausibility, though a few of the requests for dismissal were granted.
In naming both Progressive F.O.R.C.E Concepts LLC the company as well as its CEO Steve Krystek, the Steiners argued since security analyst Veronica Zea was a contracted employee of PFC, both the company and the CEO should be held liable for signing off on expenses related to the stalking and harassment campaign.
Judge Saris ruled the claims against the company may move forward, but dismissed the claims against Krystek, saying the plaintiffs failed to show he was a primary participant in the alleged scheme or that he directly supervised Zea.
The Steiners' had attempted to argue their stalking claim was applicable under California law (where eBay is headquartered), even though Massachusetts law (where most of the alleged conduct occurred) only considers stalking a criminal matter, with no civil right of action allowed.
The judge disagreed with this argument and dismissed the civil stalking claim against all defendants. The suit's assault claim was also dismissed because the complaint "does not allege that any of the defendants had physical contact with the Steiners."
The Steiners also claimed eBay was negligent in their hiring, supervision and retention of several of the executives and security personnel named in the complaint, alleging eBay should have known Wymer was "green and inexperienced" making him unlikely to push back against Wenig's inflammatory comments and that Baugh's past experience working for the FBI and CIA should have raised red flags.
Judge Saris dismissed the negligent hiring claim, finding insufficient information to support the allegations that eBay failed to catch warnings of possible future misconduct in the hiring process.
The claims for negligent supervision and retention will be allowed to move forward, as the court found the complaint plausibly establishes that had eBay and PFC properly supervised their employees – and had Wenig and Jones properly supervised Baugh – they would or should have known their employees were engaging in criminal activity.
This decision leaves the claim with 12 defendants and 11 causes of action still in play.
Discovery will move forward against remaining defendants on the claims of intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent infliction of emotional distress, negligence, negligent supervision, negligent retention, violations of the Massachusetts Civil Rights Act, defamation, trespass, false imprisonment, civil conspiracy, and ratification.
The full order on these motions to dismiss as well as other important documents in the eBay cyberstalking case are available exclusively to Value Added Resource members - subscribe to gain access today!