One year later, on June 15, 2020, the U.S. Department of Justice charged six former eBay employees, all part of the corporate security team, with conspiring to commit cyberstalking and tamper with witnesses. Their alleged targets were almost comically obscure — a mom-and-pop blogging duo from a suburb of Boston and a Twitter gadfly who wrote often in their comments section. According to the government, their methods were juvenile and grotesque, featuring cockroaches, pornography, barely veiled threats of violence and death, physical surveillance and the weaponization of late-night pizza.
“This was a determined, systematic effort by senior employees of a major company to destroy the lives of a couple in Natick,” said the U.S. attorney in Boston, Andrew Lelling, at a news conference, “all because they published content the company executives didn’t like.”
Each charge carries a sentence of up to five years in prison. Mr. Baugh, whose age was given as 45, and his deputy, David Harville, 48, were arrested. The other defendants are Ms. Zea, who is now 26; Ms. Popp, 32; Stephanie Stockwell, 26; and Brian Gilbert, 51. A seventh employee, Philip Cooke, 55, was charged in July. Contacted through their lawyers, none would comment except Ms. Zea, who said she would plead guilty. Ms. Popp, Ms. Stockwell, Mr. Gilbert and Mr. Cooke are expected to do the same. The case is still open.
This account is based on court documents and dozens of interviews with people who followed the stalking scandal closely, including six who worked in Global Security and Resilience. The scheme they describe was both completely malevolent and remarkably inept — full of daft assumptions on the part of eBay about a plot that did not exist. It stands as a warning about how easily tech companies can feel aggrieved, and the mayhem that can ensue when they do. And it vividly shows how the internet makes people crazy, often without them ever realizing it.
Paul Florence was the chief executive of Concentric Advisors, the staffing agency that placed Ms. Zea at eBay. “It felt like eBay was breaking the analysts down psychologically — making them doubt themselves, isolating them, turning them against each other,” he said. In 18 months, eBay fired at least a dozen analysts. When Mr. Florence protested, his firm was fired, too.
“I was relieved,” he said. “It seemed like a cult.”
2. ‘We are going to crush this lady’
Like many people during the dot-com boom of the late 1990s, Ina and David Steiner took a hobby and turned it into a business. Ina worked at a publishing company and collected books. David, a video producer, had been going to yard sales since he was a kid. He liked advertising collectibles, antique tools — anything that caught his eye. In 1999, four years after eBay was founded, when the notion of transacting with strangers online was still for the bold, they started a modest website offering advice to buyers.