Natick couple suing eBay now battling feds over classified info

Before being sentenced to nearly five years in prison, he penned a four-page letter outlining some of his covert work, including assisting with recruiting foreign agents and conducting electronic surveillance of foreign leaders. The letter, filed in a public court database in September 2022, also disclosed code names Baugh said he was given by the CIA and the FBI.

Baugh and six others who worked for him at eBay pleaded guilty to criminal charges over the conspiracy to stalk and intimidate the Steiners, including threatening them over Twitter and sending them live spiders and a bloody pig mask. The campaign started after former chief executive Devin Wenig and other top executives at eBay complained about coverage of the company on a website run by the Steiners called EcommerceBytes.

In addition to the seven people who pleaded guilty, the Steiners are suing Wenig and other former executives who were not charged in the criminal case, claiming they were negligent in supervising Baugh. Wenig and the top executives knew about Baugh's history and should have anticipated his efforts to attack the couple, according to the lawsuit first filed in July 2021.

But Wenig and the other executives have denied knowing about Baugh's background or the plans for his criminal campaign against the Steiners.

Now the Justice Department is trying to claw back some of the revelations about Baugh — or at least prevent the Steiners from mentioning them in their ongoing lawsuit, which is headed to trial before a jury early next year. The department convinced US District Judge Patti Saris, who is overseeing the case, to seal Baugh's letter and require eBay and some of its former executives to answer questions about their knowledge of Baugh's work for the CIA and FBI.

This week, the DOJ said it had reviewed the answers from eBay and Wenig, as well as eBay's former chief communications officer Steve Wymer and former senior vice president for operations Wendy Jones. None of the executives' responses disclosed information the government objected to, but the corporate response from eBay included “certain protected information” that must be shielded from public view, the department said in filings to Saris.

Saris has not yet ruled or commented on the DOJ filings. The Justice Department, eBay, and Rosemary Scapicchio, a lawyer representing the Steiners, all declined to comment.

Scapicchio and her team might also be able to reference a different filing that Baugh's lawyers made in January 2022 detailing some of his clandestine activities. The filing remains available online and has not been cited by the Justice Department.

“Mr. Baugh used private corporate resources to facilitate installation of surveillance devices at a hotel to monitor a visiting head of state and accompanying delegation from a hostile foreign power; he then secretly funneled the government-provided cash back into the corporation's finance system to reimburse the costs,” the filing noted in one of several examples.

Judge Saris has so far tried to take a middle path on information about Baugh's background. When a Justice Department lawyer argued at a hearing in December that Baugh's background was irrelevant to the lawsuit, Saris pushed back.

“You seem to misunderstand the case,” she told Justice Department trial attorney Christopher Edelman. “A big part of the case against Wenig, Wymer, and Jones is negligent supervision… That seems fair game for the plaintiffs to ask what did you know, what had he told you.”

Edelman stuck to his argument. “What they knew to the extent it relates to Mr. Baugh is likely to be classified information,” he said.

The revelation that eBay may have known about Baugh's background, as well as other messages among the former top executives that were disclosed last month, could bolster the Steiners case, according to Kirk Hanson, a business ethics expert and senior fellow at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University who followed the case.

The new evidence “strengthens the argument that higher-ups knew and approved of steps the eBay security chief took to harass the Steiners,” Hanson said. “Too often, lower level employees take the fall to protect senior executives, who use 'deniability' as their shield.”

Aaron Pressman can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him @ampressman.

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