BOSTON — A Natick woman, who along with her husband, was targeted in a campaign of harassment and terror by eBay Inc. officials, told a federal judge Thursday that they felt like prisoners in their own home.
"In August 2019, it became our prison," Ina Steiner said in a written victim impact statement provided to U.S. District Court Judge Patti Saris. "I was afraid to answer the front door or get the mail. I was afraid to go for a walk. I was afraid to leave the house, but I was also afraid to be inside and each evening when dusk settled and night fell, my anxiety grew."
On Thursday, two men whom authorities say took part in the harassment were sentenced in U.S. District Court.
Saris sentenced James Baugh, 47, of San Jose, California, to 57 months in prison, followed by two years of supervised release, and imposed a $40,000 fine. She sentenced David Harville, 50, of Las Vegas, to two years in federal prison, followed by two years of supervised release, and imposed a $20,000 fine.
Both men pleaded guilty earlier to this year to several charges in connection to the harassment of Ina and David Steiner, of Natick. They will begin serving their sentences later this year.
Negative press angered eBay
Authorities say the harassment started in August 2019 after officials at eBay — an international online marketplace platform that connects buyers and sellers of various items — were angered by what they considered negative press written by the Steiners on their e-commerce website called Ecommercebytes.
Baugh, who was head of security for eBay, and several of his subordinates then began an online and in-person harassment campaign against the couple, which included online threatening messages, mailing disturbing items such as live insects and a bloody pig's mask to the couple's home, and even pretending to work with the couple to find out who was harassing them. They even followed the Steiners in vehicles and allegedly considered breaking into the home or sending gang members to the home to scare the couple.
The harassment had a negative affect on the Steiners, Ina Steiner wrote in her impact statement.
"The defendants employed psychological warfare — they primed us for fear, and it worked," she wrote. "I began feeling pressure when breathing, I had nightmares, I began losing weight and had trouble sleeping, fearing we would get 'swatted,' which would put our lives in danger if the police came to our home with guns drawn."
In August 2020, the Steiners reported the harassment to Natick police. Police began an investigation, along with federal authorities. Members of the harassment campaign actually worked with Natick police at first, putting forth several "suspects" prior to the scheme being revealed.
Seven alleged harassers were arrested and each has pleaded guilty. Others still await sentencing.
Lasting financial impact
In her impact statement, Ina Steiner called the harassment a "deliberate, cruel attempt" to destroy their business.
"David and I started our publishing business in 1999, and with the same passion and hard work we used to fix up our home, we built it up into a site that online sellers could rely on for news and information," she said. "The defendants tried to burn my business to the ground, and I still worry they may get what they wished. The conviction and sentencing of the seven defendants is powerful and vital to our healing, but it doesn't mean David and I get to return to normal. The defendants' crimes have had a profound impact on me, my husband, and on our livelihood. They upended our lives and we're still dealing with the fallout after three long years."
David Steiner, in his victim impact statement, said the website lost advertisers and revenue, and forced the couple to cash in certificate of deposits that they had planned to hold until after retirement. Steiner indicated he also had to go on Social Security at age 62, rather than waiting until 67, just to make ends meet.
"Because of our new economic reality, we have had to slash our health insurance costs, opting for a higher deductible and more limited network of doctors. We’re now both older than 60, and at a point in our lives when medical considerations become more of a reality."
Steiner said he still can't understand why eBay, which posted 2021 sales of more than $10.4 billion, and its employees would attack journalists in such a manner over what they perceived as negativity. He wondered that if it had worked, would that have been the company's strategy against any other negative press going forward.
"I'm struggling to get to a place where I can forgive the seven defendants, the unindicted co-conspirators and eBay for the heinous acts against us," David Steiner said in his impact statement. "I’ve been told that to begin to heal, I need to get past my anger. I’m not there yet. I’ve held on to this anger, afraid that if I let it go, no one will make eBay fully accountable for their actions. If they are not, what is there to deter corporations from mobilizing security agencies and their security own department from repeating eBay’s actions? This is too important to let go of my anger yet."
The Steiners have filed a federal civil suit against all members of the harassment campaign, as well as eBay and its executives. Settlement talks earlier this year fell apart.
The Steiners' lawyer, Rosemary Scapicchio, could not be reached for comment on Thursday.
Norman Miller can be reached at 508-626-3823 or email@example.com. For up-to-date public safety news, follow Norman Miller on Twitter @Norman_MillerMW or on Facebook at facebook.com/NormanMillerCrime.
This article originally appeared on MetroWest Daily News: Ex-eBay employees sentenced to prison for harassing Natick, MA couple