Former eBay Employees Sentenced After Harassing E-Retailers’ Critics
BOSTON — A federal judge in Boston sentenced more former eBay employees Tuesday after they pleaded guilty to criminal charges from a harassment campaign against two journalists who criticized the online retailer in their blog.
Prosecutors called the harassment “unimaginably cruel” for a scheme that included anonymous deliveries to their home of a bloody pig mask, a funeral wreath, cockroaches and a book about surviving the loss of a spouse. The two journalists are married.
Before prosecutors decided cyberstalkers who participated in the scheme acted alone, eBay’s top executives were investigated. Chief Executive Devin Wenig and communications chief Steve Wymer were exonerated by police.
They admitted being unhappy about the blog called eCommerceByte written by Ina and David Steiner but denied encouraging a plot of retaliation against them.
The seven people who have pleaded guilty in the plot were all employees of eBay who have left the company.
Prosecutors say they were led by James Baugh, eBay’s former senior director of safety and security, who has been sentenced to nearly five years in prison.
One of the people sentenced Tuesday was Stephanie Popp, 34, of Louisville, Kentucky, eBay’s former senior manager of global intelligence. She was sentenced to one year in prison after pleading guilty to cyberstalking conspiracy and witness tampering conspiracy charges.
Prosecutors said in court documents that she participated in all parts of the harassment campaign and “knew both its full extent and the effect that it was having on its ‘rattled’ victims.”
Also on Tuesday, Stephanie Stockwell, 28, of Redwood City, California, former manager of eBay’s Global Intelligence Center, was sentenced to one year of home confinement and one year of probation. She pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit cyberstalking and witness tampering conspiracy.
During some parts of the alleged harassment campaign, the group sent threatening Twitter messages to the Steiners. They also are accused of stalking the Steiners near their Natick, Massachusetts, home.
Prosecutors said Stockwell drew up a fake “person of interest” document that convinced the police to investigate the couple. The document falsely accused them of threatening eBay.
Stockwell was spared from jail because of her lesser role in the scheme. She suffered from a then undiagnosed case of autism, which made it easier for other conspirators to manipulate her, according to the assistant U.S. attorney who recommended no jail time.
Federal court guidelines suggest sentences of 30 to 37 months for most cyberstalking conspiracies. The average is 30 months.
“The activities of this group are nothing short of disgusting and appalling,” U.S. District Judge William G. Young said about the conspirators during the sentencing hearing this week.
“Words do not encompass it,” Young said. “The record that this court has before it shows a deliberate attempt to actually suppress speech, to interfere with the constitutional rights of others.”
He declined to absolve Stockwell of all guilt because of her recent diagnosis of autism.
“This court concludes that you knew very well what you were admitting to at the time you pled guilty,” Young told her.
The Steiners wanted stiffer sentences, saying light sentences could encourage other potential cyberstalkers.
They also wanted prosecutors to file criminal charges against eBay and its top executives. Prosecutors declined the request but the Steiners are pursuing other claims against the company in a lawsuit.
The case is U.S. v. Gilbert et al. in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts.
Tom can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @tramstack.