“Take Her Down”: Inside eBay’s Stalking Campaign against a Natick Couple
Amazon. Etsy. eBay. Lots of companies appeared in David and Ina Steiner’s e-commerce newsletter. Only one tried to take them out.
One August day in 2019, Ina and David Steiner were in their offices at their Natick home when they each noticed an email pop into their inboxes. The message was bizarre. It said that their “wet specimen” was ready and asked, Did they want to accept delivery? Ina, petite with short white hair, leaned over and pressed a button on the intercom between her room and David’s. “Did you see the message?” she asked. He had, and was just as confused and alarmed as his wife. Neither of them had ordered a wet specimen, nor were they exactly sure what one even was. After all, the couple were hardly doctors or scientists—they ran an online trade publication and newsletter called EcommerceBytes, which covered companies such as eBay, Etsy, and Amazon.
“Can you call back and ask them what this is about?” Ina asked.
When David reached the company by phone, the rep told him nonchalantly that the wet specimen in question was a pig fetus embalmed in formaldehyde. “Would you like to accept delivery?” he asked.
David hung up and called the police.
A few minutes later, a cruiser from the Natick police department pulled into the Steiners’ driveway and an officer walked up to their front door. David and Ina invited him inside, took a deep breath, and did their best to sound sane as they began to explain what was happening.
It had all started in June, when David found the word “Fidomaster” spray-painted in black across his brand-new white fence in the front yard. As with any blog, the Steiners’ attracted its share of cranks. Fidomaster happened to be the nom de post of one of the website’s most prolific commenters, who regularly wrote angry messages about eBay’s policies and leadership. Several weeks later, the Steiners began receiving vulgar and threatening Twitter messages from someone going by the name Tui_Elei who claimed that the coverage on the couple’s site was harming eBay sellers. Then came the newsletters. The Steiners woke up one August morning to find that someone had signed them up for “Irritable Bowel Syndrome news,” “Satanic Temple membership,” and “Sin City Fetish Night Newsletter.” By day’s end, they had more than 50 such subscriptions. And now, the apparent pièce de résistance: Someone had ordered them a pig fetus.
Ina told the police officer she was convinced that the electronic harassment was related to the graffiti, which would mean that whoever had spent hours of their life tormenting them online had also been to their house. The cop politely took notes and said he would look into the matter. On his way out the door, the officer bent over and picked up a package that had just arrived on the doorstep and passed it to Ina. Moments later, David and the officer were still chatting by the front door when they heard a piercing scream. They scrambled inside to find Ina shaking and the package, now opened, sitting on the kitchen counter. Inside was a shrink-wrapped, bloody pig’s face.
David tried to calm his wife while the officer stepped forward and prodded the pig’s face with his finger. “It’s not real,” he assured them. It was a Halloween mask from the horror movie Saw.
After the officer left, Ina logged onto her computer, Googled Saw, and read that the plot involved a psychopath who kidnapped, killed, and tortured his victims. Ina was starting to feel as though she had become a character in a horror movie, too, though the plotline was still a mystery. That night, she and David lay awake in bed, feeling helpless, their minds reeling with the questions that tormented them: Why was this happening? Who were they dealing with? And, the most terrifying question of all: What would this person do next?
David and Ina’s first meeting was like something out of a Hollywood rom-com. It was the 1980s and Ina was a senior at North Adams State College when she walked into a party and saw David from across the room. He was a member of the band hosting the party and she immediately thought he was handsome. They spent most of the night talking and went on a date several nights later. They’ve been together ever since.
As a young couple, one of the Steiners’ favorite activities was prowling yard sales for underpriced treasures. They loved the hunt, but what they appreciated even more was finding something useful to them that had become little more than trash to the seller. Every time, it seemed like a small miracle—the perfect encounter among buyer, object, and seller. So when eBay launched online in 1995, they were fascinated. Here was a way to achieve a brief moment of serendipity at scale. The only hiccup was that during eBay’s early years, its website was clunky and users were not especially Web savvy. Maybe, the couple thought, they could help.
Like any good entrepreneurs, the Steiners anticipated a need before their audience even knew it existed. Launched in 1999, their website today has some 600,000 monthly visitors, and the vast majority of their subscribers are people who make their living selling on eBay. David and Ina’s publication isn’t exactly required reading in most American living rooms, but in the insular world of e-commerce, and for the legions of people for whom these platforms are essentially workplaces, it may as well be the New York Times. Sellers, though, aren’t the only ones religiously reading the newsletter: Top executives at eBay, among other companies, are also subscribers.
Since their publication’s inception, Ina and David have been the only staff members, with David seeing to the business side and Ina serving as the dogged reporter and writer. Their company’s headquarters has always been located at their Natick home—a charming Colonial with a gable roof close to the street that takes on the look of a gingerbread house in winter. They couldn’t have been happier with the arrangement. They bought their house in 1995 as a fixer-upper, and David, almost singlehandedly, spent 10 years turning it into a home that felt uniquely their own.
Home matters to the couple. They don’t travel all that much, or have children to visit. But suddenly a constant stream of troubling events had turned the place that was once their sanctuary into what felt like a house of horrors. And it was getting ever more frightening by the day.
Soon after the Twitter messages started coming from Tui_Elei, David was standing in his foyer, ripping into a bubble envelope that had just arrived from Amazon, when a book slid out. The cover featured a photo of crumpled rose petals and the words Grief Diaries: Surviving Loss of a Spouse. When David read the title, he felt as though he’d been struck by a Mack truck. Up until then, Ina had been more concerned than David. For a week now, she had been obsessing over questions she couldn’t answer: Was it one person? Was it a team? Was it a disgruntled reader? Or someone else altogether? David had tried to soothe her. Strange things happen on the Internet, he told her one evening. Encountering them from time to time was a hazard of the jobs they loved, he assured her. The arrival of the book changed all of that. Now, David believed someone wanted his wife dead.
David and Ina felt under siege. They hunkered down at home and did what they could to protect themselves. For the first time in their marriage, they slept in separate bedrooms so that if an intruder invaded their home, at least one of them might have time to escape or call for help. Then, in a move that seemed to have been plucked from Home Alone, Ina rolled a laundry cart in front of their back door and piled it high with baking pans so that if someone tried to enter, the cookware would crash to the floor, letting them know someone was breaking in. Ina stashed a baseball bat in her bedroom and a golf club in her office. David all but stopped sleeping, waking every two hours to turn on his iPad and watch the feed from his surveillance camera that monitored the front door.
The day after they set the backdoor booby trap, Ina was caught off-guard by a call from someone at the corporate offices of a sex-toy chain store. An anonymous person had registered the Steiners as being interested in opening a franchise. The day after that, a package arrived from a company called Carolina Biological Supply. That didn’t bode well. David called the police and told an officer that something—he wasn’t sure what—had arrived in a box and he didn’t want to open it. When the cops arrived and inspected the parcel, the verdict was in: The package was full of fly larvae and live spiders.
The deliveries didn’t stop. The following day, an unsuspecting flower delivery man appeared at the Steiners’ back door holding a funeral wreath. When Ina and David confronted him, he said he had been instructed to leave the wreath at the back door without ringing the bell. David interpreted the wreath as another threat against Ina’s life.
The couple’s journalistic instincts kicked in. They became a two-person investigative unit, determined to solve the mystery that their lives had become. Ina and David called retailers who’d sent unwanted packages and demanded to know who had placed the orders. Though they were desperate to figure out who was tormenting them, their efforts bore little fruit. Retailers frequently stonewalled their questions, citing privacy policies.
For the Steiners, their investigation created little more than the illusion of control. No matter how many calls they made, no matter how many leads they tracked down, the packages, the strange phone calls, and the threatening messages all kept coming—there was nothing they could do, and it was starting to take its toll. In addition, David and Ina were famished and running out of food, too overwhelmed—and too afraid—to leave their home and shop for groceries. Neither of them had slept straight through the night in a week, and they found themselves getting slower, their thinking less clear, their minds bogged down by exhaustion and stress.
One afternoon, a neighbor appeared at the front door and extended his hand. In it was a magazine. When Ina saw it, she gasped. Hustler: Barely Legal, the cover said. The label bore David’s name but the neighbor’s address. Terrorizing them wasn’t enough, David and Ina thought. Apparently, their tormentors wanted to humiliate them, too.
Several days after the magazine arrived, a friend of the Steiners stopped by their home to drop off a car. It was the final piece that the couple needed to convert their home into a fortress. David wanted to block off the driveway with the additional vehicle to make it harder for anyone to approach the house. After the friend parked the car in position, David offered him a ride back home.
As they drove away, David happened to glance down a side street, where he spotted a black van with New York plates inching toward the intersection. He felt his nervous system jolt. Just a few hours earlier, David had been atop a ladder, attaching yet another security camera to the roof of his house so that he could monitor the front yard and the street beyond it. Ina was inside the house, passing him tools through a bedroom window, when she blurted out, “black van, New York plates!” David swung around to see a van creeping slowly down his street. The couple had wondered if the van was simply a lost contractor or if it was their tormentor coming to attack them in their home.
Now, driving his friend home, David glanced into his rearview mirror to see that very van pulling out from a side street and getting right behind him. “You’re going to think I’m crazy,” David told his friend. “But I think we’re being tailed.”
Instead of driving his friend home, David made a series of random right turns—tracing a route to nowhere. To his horror, the van followed, making every turn that he did. As David steered around a bend, briefly out of the van’s sightline, the friend told David to slam on the brakes. He scrambled out onto the street and hid in a nearby bush. Then, as the van drove by, David’s friend snapped a photo of the vehicle’s license plate.
When David returned home, he burst into the house and told Ina to call the police. Soon, three cruisers pulled up to the yard. By then, though, the van had vanished. As Ina spoke to the cops, David tried to gather himself by the front gate. A curious neighbor approached and said something, but David couldn’t comprehend the words. “I have to sit down,” he muttered as he stumbled toward the stoop. He was sweating and breathing heavily. The cops left and Ina helped David inside. But his condition only worsened. He turned white, and when he tried to ask her for a glass of water, he could barely get the words out between ragged breaths. Jesus, Ina thought, he’s having a heart attack.
Ina knew she had to call 911, but she was terrified to. What if the van followed the ambulance and ambushed them on the way? But if she didn’t call, she worried David could die right there on their couch. As she tried to figure out what to do, she consoled him and watched the color return to his face. Then his uneven breath steadied and slowed to a more normal rhythm. It wasn’t cardiac arrest. He had suffered a panic attack.
In time, David calmed down, but he couldn’t relax. That night, he lay awake watching security-camera footage of his home on his iPad. At around 4:30 a.m., he heard the unmistakable sound of tires on the street outside. Then a black sedan rolled into view on his video feed and stopped in front of the house. That’s not good, David thought. He got up, parted the curtain, and looked outside.
The driver’s door opened and a balding, older man stepped out. David could feel his legs quiver and his heart thumping like a steam hammer. “Call 911,” he hollered over his shoulder to Ina, who was in the bedroom down the hall. Then he turned back to the open window and shouted, “The police are on their way!” The stranger paid no attention. He walked to the car’s rear door and opened it. Inside, David could see something that looked like a black leather case. “Jesus,” he said, “there’s a gun in there.”
“What do you want? What do you want?” David screamed out the window at the man.
In response, the visitor reached into the car and pulled out the case.
“Stop it! Drop it!” David shouted, his voice growing more panicked.
On the phone in the other room, Ina could hear every word. She frantically dialed 911 and told the dispatcher that there was an intruder at their house and she thought he had a gun. The dispatcher told her the cops were on the way, but Ina knew that wasn’t much good. The man was standing outside their house and heading toward their front gate. It was too late.
When the stranger reached the front gate, David watched him bend down, remove a pair of objects from his case, and place them flat on the ground. Then he turned toward David and, for the first time, spoke. “God bless,” he said, before sliding back in the car and driving away.
David watched the sedan’s red taillights disappear down the road. Once it was out of sight, he crept downstairs and went outside, scanning his surroundings as he made his way toward the gate. There, he found two pizza boxes sitting on the ground. He tugged open one of the lids to see what was inside.
David didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. The stranger wasn’t an assassin. He was just the latest unwitting pawn deployed in the campaign to terrorize the Steiners. And clearly it was working.
The following morning, a week after the siege of the Steiners’ home had begun, a police officer called with bad news: One digit of the license plate that David’s friend had photographed was not legible, and the New York State DMV had refused to provide any information based on a partial number. The Steiners, and the cops, remained empty-handed: Their tormentor had left no trace.
Meanwhile, the threatening Twitter messages continued. “U get my gifts cunt???” Tui_Elei wrote, referring, David and Ina thought, to the latest round of unwanted deliveries, which included a box of cockroaches. Around the same time, Tui_Elei posted the Steiners’ address on Twitter. Then an ad appeared on Craigslist announcing a sex party at the Steiners’ address, inviting anyone and everyone to come right in, no need to knock.
The next day, David decided, finally, to buy groceries. He asked a neighbor to keep an eye on the house, and on Ina, while he was out. He felt uneasy leaving his wife at home alone, but they needed to eat, and the idea of summoning another stranger to the house with a delivery was intolerable.
David was driving through his neighborhood when a silver SUV started following him. He could once again feel panic taking over, but he managed, somehow, to evade its grip. He wasn’t going to make the same mistake twice: This time, David would not let the SUV get away without capturing its license plate number. He turned onto Pond Street, a main thoroughfare, and then made a series of random turns. He looked in his rearview mirror. The SUV was still there. He was being followed again.
David dialed 911 on his cellphone. When the dispatcher answered, he said, “I’m being followed. Call the Natick police.” His plan was to lure the vehicle to the police station. There, he thought, officers could spring into action should his pursuer try to take him by force. If the driver stayed inside the SUV, David could snap photos of the person with the police nearby.
He stopped his car in front of the station. The SUV then turned onto a side street. David didn’t know what would happen next. Will I hear a rap on the window? he wondered. Will masked men swarm me? He could feel himself losing control again, his breathing becoming faster and shallower. Then, in the mirror, the SUV reappeared. David calmed himself, steadied his phone against the steering wheel, and trained the viewfinder on the vehicle’s license plate as it drove past. Click. Click. Click. He shot more than a dozen photos—this time he had to be sure.
Several minutes later, an officer saw David sitting on a retaining wall outside the station and walked over. After taking the photos, David had staggered to his feet, but collapsed onto the wall as a panic attack overtook him again. When the officer approached, he couldn’t bring himself back to his feet. He was trembling; his legs felt locked up. But he unlocked his phone and showed it to the officer, swiping through the photos one by one. Even though his hands had been shaky at the time, the images were crystal clear: Every digit of the license plate was visible. He’d done it.
The next day, the phone rang at the Steiner residence. It was the Natick police. An investigator told Ina that he’d run the plates and that the vehicle was a rental. “Do you know anyone named Veronica Zea?” the detective asked.
Ina had never heard the name in her life. “Who is she?” she asked. Other than the renter of the car, the investigator wasn’t sure yet. But he had uncovered one intriguing detail, he said: “It looks like she works for eBay.”
Ina hung up the phone, her head spinning in a dizzy mix of confusion and shock. Who was Veronica Zea? she wondered, and what did it mean that she worked for eBay? EcommerceBytes wasn’t an obsequious trade publication, and Ina prided herself on writing fair and balanced, if opinionated, articles. Her slant, insofar as she had one, was pro-seller. Still, Ina knew she had ruffled some feathers at eBay before, and occasionally the company had struck back. In 2009, she recalled, the Steiners had discovered that an eBay executive had created anonymous accounts on their site to post comments criticizing the Steiners’ coverage, presumably to discredit them in the eyes of their readers. Then the company upped its ante: Someone at eBay reported the Steiners’ blog as a phishing site. It was a spurious allegation that eBay ultimately retracted, but if the Steiners’ Web hosting company had believed it, it could have pulled EcommerceBytes from the Internet, destroying the couple’s sole source of income.
In the years following the false phishing accusation, the Steiners’ relationship with eBay continued to deteriorate. Where David and Ina once had an open line of communication to the company’s PR department and, occasionally, to senior management, they now received gruff brushbacks when posing questions. It was a bummer to be on the outs, but it didn’t change the coverage. Ina kept on reporting, whether her subjects liked what she wrote or not.
Still, Ina didn’t think for a moment that eBay could be behind the kind of torment she and David had experienced over the past several weeks. She thought Zea had to be a rogue employee acting alone and without the company’s knowledge.
As she had been doing since the harassment began a couple of weeks earlier, Ina kept investigating—to burn off her nervous energy and to feel as though she had some measure of control. She started with Zea’s profile on LinkedIn. Zea appeared to be some sort of temp, employed by a company in Las Vegas called Progressive F.O.R.C.E. Concepts, and was currently stationed at eBay’s headquarters. Ina dug a bit further, combing through Zea’s contacts at eBay. Then she noticed something strange. Ina had been covering eBay for 20 years and knew the company inside out. But Zea’s division, the Global Intelligence Center, was completely new to her. She was spooked but also relieved. Now that the police had identified Zea, Ina was sure that eBay would rein her in.
The day after identifying Zea, a Natick police detective showed up at the Ritz-Carlton, called Zea’s cellphone, and asked her to meet him in the lobby to talk. Just as she started to speak, a man’s voice came on the line. He claimed to be Zea’s husband and said that any questions could be directed to him. Then he hung up. The police were left standing in the lobby.
The harassment continued over the next several nights, including someone posting an ad on the website Garage Sale Finder for an “Everything must go!” sale at the Steiners’ address. Now, David and Ina were as scared as they’d ever felt. After all, they reasoned, if the cops knew about Zea and had contacted eBay and the harassment still hadn’t stopped, it meant the company was likely provoking them on purpose. It was a devastating thought. eBay was one of the largest companies in the world. The Steiners couldn’t fight it. They weren’t even sure the Natick police could. “They can crush us,” Ina told David. “They can destroy us.”
Unknown to the Steiners, though, the Natick detectives were not in the dark. They had already connected Zea to another member of eBay’s security division, a man named David Harville. The Natick police also understood that what was happening to the Steiners potentially involved interstate crimes and cybercrimes and called in the FBI. Within weeks, the U.S. Department of Justice contacted Zea, Harville, and several other colleagues at eBay, suggesting they all get lawyers. They were going to need them.
On June 15, 2020, nearly a year after the harassment had begun, the Steiners were driving through the MetroWest suburbs when Ina’s cellphone rang. It was a victims’ outreach specialist from the Department of Justice with some startling news: In 15 minutes, Massachusetts’ U.S. Attorney, Andrew Lelling, was going to announce criminal charges against the couple’s tormentors.
David turned the car around and sped home. Back in their living room, Ina flicked on the TV to see Lelling behind a lectern describing to the world the worst weeks of the Steiners’ lives. His office, he told a room full of reporters, was prosecuting six eBay employees and contractors accused of terrorizing the hapless Natick couple on charges including conspiracy to commit cyberstalking and conspiracy to tamper with witnesses. David and Ina were thrilled to see the wheels of justice turning, and even happier that the intimidation had abruptly stopped the previous September. Yet now, listening to the press conference, they felt as though they were reliving the dreadful summer of 2019 all over again.
For days following Lelling’s announcement, David couldn’t sleep through the night. Meanwhile, ever the reporter, Ina downloaded all of the documents related to the criminal case and pored over every detail. The specifics that investigators had discovered were far worse than she’d imagined: While she had spent years working in her Natick office, focused intently on any news coming out of eBay, it turned out that 3,000 miles away, inside the massive and modern eBay headquarters nestled among the pine trees of San Jose, California, CEO Devin Wenig, who ran the $40 billion company, was also fixated on her.
By 2019, Wenig had grown infuriated by Ina’s coverage of him and of eBay on EcommerceBytes. At the same time, Wenig’s position at the top of eBay was in doubt. In January 2019, Elliott Management, an aggressive, activist hedge fund, announced that it had bought a 4 percent stake in the company and that it would seek substantial corporate changes. (Traditionally, the types of changes Elliott sought included unceremoniously replacing the CEO.) Then Elliott published an open letter to eBay’s board, outlining its plans and accusing the company of “misexecution.” Ina included the news in a January 22, 2019, blog post titled, “Activist Investor Eviscerates eBay Management.”
The pressure from Elliott—and Ina’s coverage of it—may have contributed to Wenig’s paranoia over criticism. In email chains and text messages to colleagues and subordinates, according to court files, he fumed about the Steiners’ newsletter (as well as a Twitter account run by “Fidomaster”). In April 2019, Wenig texted a link to Ina’s latest post—which reported that Wenig’s annual compensation was 152 times greater than that of the median eBay employee—to Steve Wymer, eBay’s chief communications officer. Wymer immediately wrote back, “We are going to crush this lady.” One month later, Wenig fired off a text to Wymer with a singular directive: “Take her down.”
In response, Wymer put eBay’s security division into action. In the summer of 2019, Wymer exchanged text messages with the security division’s head, Jim Baugh. “If I can neutralize Ina’s website in two weeks or less does that work for you?” Baugh wrote to Wymer. “I want to see ashes,” Wymer responded. “As long as it takes. Whatever it takes.”
Inside eBay, Baugh was known as a loose cannon. He sometimes claimed that he’d worked for the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. (In court filings, Baugh’s attorneys have stated that he was once an asset for the FBI, but have presented no concrete evidence he worked for the CIA.) And he’d gained a reputation for demanding that his team members remain on high alert at all times, attuned to the possibility of an imminent attack as if they were constantly at war. Once, according to court documents, he found a knife carelessly left out in the office, picked it up, and jammed the blade straight into a chair. He wanted his employees to understand that if the wrong person had stumbled upon it, the outcome could have been savage. Another time, he screened the movie Meet the Fockers for his security personnel—not so they could laugh at Robert De Niro’s over-the-top performance of a paranoid ex-spy, but because he thought the character was a model figure worth emulating. The female members of his team, including Zea, were known as Jim’s Angels.
In early June 2019, Brian Gilbert, a former police captain who was now a senior manager in eBay’s security division, flew from California to Boston. When he arrived, he bought a can of spray paint at a hardware store and then tagged David and Ina’s white front fence with the word “Fidomaster.” As Baugh set the plan in motion, he remained in touch with Wymer, even asking for direction about how far he should take the operation. “[Wenig] said to burn her to the ground correct?” Baugh texted Wymer in early August.
“She is [a] biased troll who needs to get BURNED DOWN,” Wymer responded, adding, “I’ll embrace managing any bad fallout. We need to STOP her.” Shortly thereafter, Baugh wrote to Harville: “I’ve been ordered to find and destroy.”
During the next several weeks, Baugh’s team members took turns harassing the Steiners at their home, while the rest of the team did so online. When eBay employees weren’t stalking the Steiners, they were living it up in the city, booking rooms at the Ritz-Carlton every time they flew into town. Their boss reveled in his teams’ successes. The Steiners “are seeing ghosts now. Lol,” Baugh wrote to one team member on WhatsApp. In another gleeful message, he typed, they “think everyone is following them and they call the police every 10 minutes. We know the targets have been impacted by this op.”
To the Steiners, the vandalism and horrifying deliveries felt like a campaign of terrorism, which was exactly the point. According to court filings, Baugh’s strategy, as he described it to his subordinates, was to disrupt the Steiners’ lives so much that they would stop publishing their newsletter. Then, once the couple was terrified and desperate, Baugh’s team would swoop in like superheroes and offer to protect the Steiners from their anonymous tormentors. Once they had won the couple’ s trust, they would persuade them to give up the identity of Fidomaster, another object of the CEO’s ire. (Baugh was convinced, erroneously, that the Steiners and “Fidomaster” were somehow in league with one another.)
Once the police became involved, though, the eBay team adopted a new objective: covering their tracks. Its members knew they had been sloppy, such as the time Zea used a credit card with her name on it to rent an SUV. Still, they believed that their former police officer colleagues, Gilbert and another ex-police captain, Philip Cooke, could outwit the authorities. But they were sorely mistaken.
In mid-fall, I met the Steiners in the basement conference room of a converted warehouse on the North End waterfront. In this interview and others, Ina would be a stickler for accuracy. David betrayed more emotion. Ever since the harassment began, he told me, they’ve had trouble trusting strangers.
The space belonged to attorney Rosemary Scapicchio, who soon entered the room wearing her hair in her trademark blond spikes. A star of the Netflix documentary series Trial 4, Scapicchio is known as one of Boston’s most intrepid defense attorneys. She is now representing the Steiners, who hired her to file a civil lawsuit against Wenig, Wymer, and eBay, among others, because the Steiners didn’t think the criminal prosecution went far enough.
The criminal case—which targeted middle- and low-level eBay employees who carried out the plot, not the senior executives who created the circumstances for the plot to move forward in the first place—has been successful so far. After the initial announcement of the indictments, the feds charged another eBay employee, bringing the total to seven. Three members of Baugh’s team have pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit cyberstalking and conspiracy to obstruct justice in the criminal case. Cooke and Gilbert, the former police captains, have pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit cyberstalking and conspiracy to tamper with a witness. In July, Cooke was sentenced to 18 months in prison. Baugh and Harville, meanwhile, have entered not guilty pleas to a wider array of charges: stalking, conspiracy to commit stalking, witness tampering, and destruction of evidence. At press time, they were awaiting trial.
Shortly after eBay heard from law enforcement about the investigation into Baugh’s team, the company began its own investigation, with the assistance of an outside law firm. (eBay also cooperated with the law enforcement investigation, providing many of the internal communications that would eventually emerge during the criminal proceedings.) When eBay completed its investigation in September 2019, it “terminated all involved employees, including the company’s former chief communications officer [Wymer],” according to a statement eBay published on its website. As for Wenig, the company said that “while [his] communications were inappropriate, there was no evidence that he knew in advance about or authorized the actions that were later directed toward the blogger and her husband.” Wenig left eBay in September 2019. The company said that “there were a number of considerations leading to his departure.”
What troubles the Steiners, though, is that despite their departures from eBay, Wenig and Wymer have escaped virtually scot-free. Neither has been criminally charged. Wenig walked out of eBay HQ with a $57 million exit package. The following year, after his messages—including “Take her down”—became public, he was reelected to serve as a member of General Motors’ board of directors. A spokesperson for GM said in a statement, “Since this did not involve GM business, we will not comment. GM is opposed to harassment in any form.” A spokesperson for Wenig said that eBay’s investigation with the outside law firm “confirmed that Devin had no knowledge of the activities and nothing to do with them whatsoever.” So far, eBay has refused to release its investigation, but it may be forced to do so as the criminal cases against Baugh and Harville proceed.
Wymer, meanwhile, landed a new position even after his messages—including “I want to see ashes. Whatever. It. Takes”—entered the public domain. In September 2020, the board of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Silicon Valley unanimously selected him as their next president and CEO. Wymer did not respond to requests for comment. In a brief phone interview, Kathy Hevland, the chair of the board of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Silicon Valley, said the board members had been aware of Wymer’s connection to the Steiner case when they selected him. In a written statement, she said, “In addition to the unanimous support of our Board, a variety of respected community leaders and partners who care deeply about our organization and align with our values strongly endorsed Steve’s appointment to lead the Boys & Girls Clubs of Silicon Valley. After more than a year as our CEO, we have found Steve to be a passionate and purpose-driven person.”
Holding Wenig and Wymer, and eBay itself, to account, Ina says, is the only way to create a deterrent for companies who might do something similar in the future. “We’re speaking out,” David says, “because we don’t want this to happen to anyone else.”
Back in Natick at their beloved home, the Steiners are still living on tenterhooks. Anytime an important court date approaches, David finds himself tossing and turning in bed, unable to sleep. Home deliveries of any kind are as nerve-wracking as ever. Ina and David are not sure they’ll ever shake the sense of dread they feel anytime someone—anyone—appears at their front door.
One area of the Steiners’ life that doesn’t seem to have been affected is their commitment to covering the e-commerce beat. Each day, as she has for almost a quarter of a century, Ina retreats to her office and bangs out as many as four posts, delivering to her readers valuable news—both good and bad—about the companies she covers. She has no plans to stop.