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Couple still haunted by eBay stalking scandal years after "campaign of terror"

Inside the eBay stalking scandal
The eBay stalking scandal: How a couple became the target of harassment | 60 Minutes 13:05

Statements provided by eBay and former CEO Devin Wenig are available here.

A couple subjected to threats and bizarre deliveries, including live spiders, cockroaches, a funeral wreath and a bloody pig  mask, have continued to fight back, even after several eBay employees were sentenced in the case.

Ina and David Steiner filed a civil suit against eBay and former executives after the 2019 cyberstalking campaign. A U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Massachusetts investigation into the auction site is ongoing.

"It felt like corporate terrorism because we were terrorized. And it was very calculated. It was very vicious," Ina Steiner told 60 Minutes correspondent Sharyn Alfonsi. 

Ina Steiner and her husband have worked together from their home for more than 20 years. They publish a news website called EcommerceBytes, which focuses on players in the e-commerce industry. David Steiner handles the business side of things while Ina Steiner handles the reporting. 

eBay coverage on EcommerceBytes 60 Minutes

Most of their 600,000 readers are sellers on sites like eBay, Amazon and Etsy, but the Steiners say e-commerce executives also read the articles closely.

On the morning of Aug. 8, 2019, they started receiving strange emails. The couple were bombarded with newsletters they'd never signed up for: Sin City Fetish Night, the Satanic Temple, the Communist Party, and dozens of others. Then the harassment started on Twitter. 

"It was basically 'shut up, or else,'" Ina Steiner said. "And it was, it was as blatant as that."

Three days later, the Steiners got a strange call. 

"Somebody left a voicemail for us, saying they couldn't fulfill the order for a wet specimen. And David was the one who called. And he said, 'What is a wet specimen?' And, and it was a pig fetus," Ina Steiner said. "That's when I really, my heart sank, because I thought, 'Who might be angry at something I wrote?' And I couldn't figure it out. I mean, we were, we were desperately trying to think, 'Who could it be?'"

Police began investigating as the harassment continued. Pornography was sent to the couple's neighbors, but it was addressed to David Steiner. On social media, the Steiners' home was listed as the site of yard sales and sex parties.

And then a book about surviving the loss of a spouse, addressed to David Steiner, arrived at their doorstep in Natick, Massachusetts.

A book and a bloodied pig mask that former eBay employees allegedly mailed to a Natick, Massachusetts couple who wrote critical articles about the company. U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts

"It was a death threat. And to be followed up a few short days later with a funeral wreath, an expensive funeral wreath," David Steiner said. "It only confirmed that these people were going to hurt or kill Ina."

For three weeks, the packages and threats kept coming, even as police investigated and the Steiners installed security cameras. They started sleeping in separate rooms, so that if someone broke in, at least one of them would be able to call the police or escape, David Steiner said. 

"When it would get dark out at night, that's when I would really be terrified," Ina Steiner said. 

They were afraid inside and afraid to leave the house after David Steiner noticed he was being followed by a van one day, and later a car. He snapped a photo of the license plate. That picture broke open the case. 

Sergeant Jason Sutherland and Detective John Haswell of the Natick, Massachusetts police department tracked the license plate. The number traced back to a rental agency where Veronica Zea, an eBay employee, had rented the van, Sutherland said.  

"I don't know, I can't describe how flabbergasted we were," Ina Steiner said. "eBay? I mean, what was an eBay employee doing in a rental van, following David?"

The FBI took over the case. Ten months later, then U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling announced the indictments of several eBay employees and contractors, including Zea. 

"It didn't take us an hour to realize the ramifications of a public company trying to destroy a journalist. They were attacking the First Amendment, freedom of the press," David Steiner said. "They wanted to destroy Ina and our publication."

Lelling said the plan to target the Steiners, which he described as a "campaign of terror," was hatched in April 2019 at eBay. Devin Wenig, who served as eBay's CEO at the time, shared a link to a post Ina had written about his annual pay. The company's chief communications officer, Steve Wymer, responded: "We are going to crush this lady."

About a month later, Wenig texted: "Take her down." Prosecutors said Wymer later texted eBay security director Jim Baugh

"I want to see ashes. As long as it takes. Whatever it takes," Wymer wrote. 

Investigators said Baugh set up a meeting with security staff and dispatched a team to Boston, about 20 miles from where the Steiners live. 

Seven people who worked for eBay's Safety and Security unit, including two former cops and a former nanny, all pleaded guilty to stalking or cyberstalking charges. Baugh was sentenced to five years in prison and Zea was sentenced to a year of home confinement and probation.

To date, eBay has not been charged with any crimes. The company said in a statement to 60 Minutes that the conduct of the former employees was wrong, adding that eBay has cooperated fully with the government investigation. 

There wasn't enough evidence to file criminal charges against Wenig or Wymer, even with the texts they'd sent, Lelling said. 

"People say things like that all the time, especially senior people in companies," Lelling said. "It's not the same as, 'I am knowingly joining a criminal conspiracy to cyberstalk a couple in Natick.' People use loose talk like that all the time."

Wymer was fired for cause by eBay and now runs the Boys and Girls Clubs of Silicon Valley. He has said his texts were mischaracterized and that he learned of the employees' conduct only after the fact. 

Wenig, the former CEO, resigned from the company in 2019. He said in a statement to 60 Minutes that he was appalled at what happened. He said had he been aware of it at the time, he would have stopped it. 

Wenig resigned from eBay in September 2019 with a $57 million exit package.  

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