EBay Inc., the popular online retailer, has been ordered to pay $3 million after employees sent live spiders and cockroaches to a Massachusetts couple as part of a harassment and intimidation campaign, according to the Department of Justice.
The company was charged with criminal stalking, witness tampering and obstruction of justice.
The employees were already prosecuted in the extensive scheme to intimidate David and Ina Steiner more than three years ago.
EBay has entered into a deferred prosecution agreement that could result in the charges against the California-headquartered company being dismissed if it complies with certain conditions, according to the U.S. attorney's office in Massachusetts.
"EBay 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," acting Massachusetts U.S. Attorney Josh Levy said in a statement.
"Today’s criminal resolution with the company imposes the maximum fine that the law allows under the statutes, holding eBay accountable for a corporate culture that led to this unprecedented stalking campaign," Levy added.
The Steiners were targeted due to their coverage of eBay in their online newsletter called EcommerceBytes.
EBay executives were upset about the newsletter’s coverage, so their employees set out to ruin the lives of the couple who ran the website, sending a funeral wreath, bloody pig face Halloween mask and other alarming items to their home, authorities said. The employees also sent pornographic magazines with the husband’s name on it to their neighbor’s house and planned to break into the couple’s garage to install a GPS device on their car.
Ina Steiner received harassing and sometimes threatening Twitter messages as well as dozens of strange emails from groups like an irritable bowel syndrome patient support group and the Communist Party of the United States.
Along with a box of live spiders and the cockroaches, the couple had a funeral wreath, a bloody pig mask and a book about surviving the loss of a spouse show up at their door. Their home address was also posted online with announcements inviting strangers to yard sales and parties.
The harassment started in 2019 after Ina Steiner wrote a story about a lawsuit brought by eBay that accused Amazon of poaching its sellers, according to court records.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. This story was reported from Los Angeles.