EBay will pay $3 million to resolve criminal charges stemming from several of its former employees’ sending live spiders, cockroaches and a fetal pig to a Massachusetts couple who wrote a newsletter critical of the company in 2019, officials said Thursday.
The online auction giant was charged criminally with two counts of stalking through interstate travel, two counts of stalking through electronic communications services, witness tampering and obstruction of justice, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts said in a statement.
As part of a deferred prosecution agreement, eBay has agreed to pay the penalty, which is the maximum fine allowed by law for the six felonies, prosecutors said.
The company must also retain an independent corporate compliance monitor for three years and will have to make changes to its compliance program, according to federal authorities.
“Today’s settlement holds e-Bay criminally and financially responsible for emotionally, psychologically, and physically terrorizing the publishers of an online newsletter out of fear that bad publicity would adversely impact their Fortune 500 company,” said Jodi Cohen, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Boston Division.
EBay put the victims through “pure hell,” Joshua S. Levy, the acting U.S. attorney for the District of Massachusetts, said in the statement.
The company “engaged in absolutely horrific, criminal conduct. The company’s employees and contractors involved in this campaign put the victims through pure hell, in a petrifying campaign aimed at silencing their reporting and protecting the eBay brand,” Levy said.
In a statement posted on its website Thursday, eBay said it’s taking “responsibility for the misconduct of its former employees.”
“The company’s conduct in 2019 was wrong and reprehensible,” CEO Jamie Iannone said. “From the moment eBay first learned of the 2019 events, eBay cooperated fully and extensively with law enforcement authorities.”
Iannone continued: “Since these events occurred, new leaders have joined the company and eBay has strengthened its policies, procedures, controls and training. eBay remains committed to upholding high standards of conduct and ethics.”
The company is also committed to making things right with the couple who were victimized, the statement said.
As part of the agreement with the federal government, eBay admitted that from Aug. 5 to Aug. 23, 2019, eBay’s former senior director of safety and security and six other members of the team targeted the victims, who lived in Natick.
The intimidation campaign, prosecutors said, was meant to “change the content of the newsletter’s reporting.”
“The campaign included sending anonymous and disturbing deliveries to the victims’ home, including a book on surviving the death of a spouse, a bloody pig mask, a fetal pig and a funeral wreath and live insects,” prosecutors said.
Additional harassment included traveling to Natick to surveil the couple and installing a GPS tracking device on their car, prosecutors said.
In 2020, former members of the eBay global security team were charged. The plot to harass the couple led to convictions for seven former employees and contractors, prosecutors said. The convictions ranged from 57 months in prison to 12 months in prison, while other people were sentenced to home confinement.