Due Diligence

Written By ESR News Blog Editor Thomas Ahearn

On June 15, 2020, six former employees of eBay, Inc. were charged with “leading a cyberstalking campaign targeting the editor and publisher of a newsletter that eBay executives viewed as critical of the company” that included sending anonymous and threatening messages, sending disturbing deliveries, and conducting covert surveillance of the victims, according to a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office District of Massachusetts.

eBay’s former Senior Director of Safety & Security, eBay’s former Director of Global Resiliency, eBay’s former Senior Manager of Global Intelligence, a former manager of eBay’s Global Intelligence Center (GIC), a former eBay contractor working as a GIC intelligence analyst, and a former Senior Manager of Special Operations for eBay’s Global Security Team were charged with conspiracy to commit cyberstalking and tamper with witnesses.

The victims of the cyberstalking campaign – a couple in Natick, Massachusetts – are the editor and publisher of an online newsletter covering ecommerce companies such as eBay. In August 2019, after the newsletter published an article about litigation involving eBay, the charges claim that two members of eBay’s executive leadership team sent or forwarded text messages suggesting it was time to “take down” the newsletter’s editor.

In response, the six defendants allegedly executed a three-part harassment campaign that began by ordering anonymous and disturbing deliveries to the victims’ home that included a box of live cockroaches, a preserved fetal pig, a bloody pig Halloween mask, a funeral wreath, a book on surviving the loss of a spouse, and pornography – the last of these addressed to the newsletter’s publisher but sent to his neighbors’ homes.

As part of the second phase of the harassment campaign, some of the defendants allegedly sent private Twitter messages and public tweets criticizing the newsletter’s content and threatening to visit the victims in Natick. In addition, the charging documents claim that some of the defendants planned these messages to become increasingly disturbing, culminating with “doxing” the victims by publishing their home address.

The charging documents also allege that the very same group intended then to have one of the defendants – who was a former police captain in Santa Clara, California – approach the victims with an offer to help stop the harassment that the defendants were secretly causing, in an effort to promote good will towards eBay, generate more favorable coverage in the newsletter, and identify the individuals behind the anonymous comments.

The third phase of the campaign allegedly involved covertly surveilling the victims in their home and community, intending at one point to break into the victims’ garage and install a Global Positioning System (GPS) tracking device on their car. However, the victims spotted the surveillance and notified the Natick police, who began to investigate and then reached out to eBay for assistance in what soon would become a federal investigation.

Aware that the police were investigating, the defendants allegedly sought to interfere with the investigation by lying to the police about eBay’s involvement while pretending to offer the company’s assistance with the harassment, as well as by lying to eBay’s lawyers about their involvement. As the police and eBay’s lawyers continued to investigate, the defendants allegedly deleted digital evidence that showed their involvement.

The charges of conspiracy to commit cyberstalking and conspiracy to tamper with witnesses each carry a sentence of up to five years in prison, three years of supervised release, a fine of up to $250,000, and restitution. Sentences are imposed by a federal district court judge based upon the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors, according to the press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office District of Massachusetts.

U.S. Attorney Andrew E. Lelling; Joseph R. Bonavolonta, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Boston Field Division; and Natick Chief of Police James G. Hicks made the announcement. eBay provided valuable assistance and cooperation with the federal investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Seth B. Kosto and David J. D’Addio of Lelling’s Securities, Financial, and Cyber Fraud Unit are prosecuting the case.

A statement about the indictments of previously terminated employees issued by eBay – a multinational ecommerce business that offers platforms for consumer-to-consumer and business-to-consumer transactions – read in part: “Neither the Company nor any current eBay employee was indicted. In order to preserve the integrity of the government’s investigation, eBay did not previously communicate about this matter.”

The statement from eBay continued: “eBay was notified by law enforcement in August 2019 of suspicious actions by its security personnel toward a blogger, who writes about the Company, and her husband. eBay immediately launched a comprehensive investigation. As a result of the investigation, eBay terminated all involved employees, including the Company’s former Chief Communications Officer, in September 2019.”

Due diligence does not stop after a pre-employment background check. A post-hire screening policy is a critical component of any successful screening program. Just as there is a liability in hiring a person with a criminal past, employers that fail to conduct some type of due diligence post-hire could have the inverse issue of negligent hiring and that is to retain a person they knew or should have known could pose a predictable risk of harm.

Attorney Lester Rosen, the founder and chief executive officer (CEO) of Employment Screening Resources® (ESR), has written an opinion article titled “What to Do if Your Employee Gets Arrested – Eleven Steps to Consider” to help employers understand the repercussions of making a quick decision when an employee engages in potentially unlawful behavior and why gathering information is key in handling this type of situation.

Employment Screening Resources® (ESR) – a leading global provider of background checks for employment purposes – reminds readers of the ESR News Blog that the details contained in charging documents are allegations and that the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law. To learn more about services from ESR, please visit www.esrcheck.com.

NOTE: Employment Screening Resources® (ESR) does not provide or offer legal services or legal advice of any kind or nature. Any information on this website is for educational purposes only.

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