Fresh From College and Charged in EBay Plot, Analyst Speaks Out

Among the former eBay Inc. employees charged this week in a macabre scare campaign to silence a critical newsletter was a 26-year-old analyst who says the auction site’s chief of security presented the blog’s editor as a threat to the online giant.

Veronica Zea, working her first full-time job since graduating from college two years earlier, was just following orders, her lawyer said.

Zea, an intelligence-analyst contractor, was “naive and impressionable,” said the attorney, Frank Ubhaus. “She was told there was a real, serious threat posed to eBay that warranted taking steps to protect the company.”

One of her mentors was James Baugh, then the director of global security at the San Jose, California, company. Federal prosecutors accuse Baugh of orchestrating a cyberstalking and harassment campaign against the newsletter’s editor, Ina Steiner, and her husband, who live in the Boston suburb of Natick. Baugh, Zea and four others who worked at eBay face charges of cyberstalking conspiracy.

Fresh From College and Charged in EBay Plot, Analyst Speaks Out

Also cited in this weeks’s criminal complaint, but not charged, is a pair referred to as Executive 1 and Executive 2, whom Bloomberg has identified as former chief executive officer Devin Wenig and former public relations chief Steven Wymer.

In the spring of 2019, Baugh summoned Zea and several others to a conference room and announced the start of an operation against the newsletter, according to investigators. That summer Zea was assigned to monitor the newsletter’s content, make screen shots and forward them to her boss “day or night.”

In August, Baugh ordered Zea and two others in eBay security to anonymously harass the editor of the newsletter, EcommerceBytes, through a “distraction campaign” that included deliveries of live cockroaches, a bloody pig mask and a book on surviving the death of a spouse, investigators say.

“She followed the instructions and directions of her superiors, and it got her into this mess,” Ubhaus said.

Baugh and David Harville, eBay’s former director of global resiliency, were the most senior of the six charged. Both appeared in court this week and are free on bail. William Fick, a lawyer for Baugh, had no comment on Zea’s account. Daniel Gelb, who represents Harville, didn’t immediately respond to a call seeking comment.

Ultimately, Baugh asked Zea to accompany him and Harville on a trip to Boston for a surveillance operation on the editor’s home, investigators say. Zea was assigned to rent a minivan and sent to a Target to buy permanent markers that could be used to scrawl threats on the fence of the couple’s home, the government claims.

They stayed at the Boston Ritz-Carlton and ran up a $750 tab one evening at the Oceanaire Seafood Room. Over dinner, Baugh and Harville brainstormed more items to send the couple, including a chainsaw, human feces and a dead rat, according to investigators.

Later, when an investigation by Natick police prompted eBay to begin an internal probe, Baugh directed Zea and others to delete incriminating communications on their phones, and Harville sent Zea a text about a meeting she had with eBay’s lawyer, the U.S. says.

“Hey I’m not gonna let you speak” to eBay’s counsel anymore, it read, according to the government. “He has had enough time with you … Great work … you’re awesome!”

Ubhaus said his client is distraught over the charges and wonders if she’ll ever recover.

“She is absolutely devastated by what’s happened,” he said. “It’s turned her life upside down.”

The case is U.S. v. Baugh, 1:20-mj-02398, U.S. District Court, District of Massachusetts.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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