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Youngest eBay defendant who stalked Natick couple gets probation

The eBay sign displayed at the entrance to the company's headquarters in San Jose, Calif.David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

The sixth and youngest defendant in the terrifying 2019 harassment and stalking of a Natick couple was sentenced to two years of probation on Thursday.

Veronica Zea, who was a 25-year-old analyst in eBay’s security department during the harassment campaign, will serve the first year of her sentence under home confinement and pay a fine of $5,000.

Zea appeared in the Boston courtroom of US District Judge William Young and apologized for her actions. She blamed eBay’s former head of security, Jim Baugh, for pressuring her to participate.

“I was terrified but I was not brave enough to remove myself from the situation,” she said. “I was used as a tool for evil.”

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Baugh, who was sentenced in September to almost five years in prison, concocted the bizarre scheme after top eBay executives including then-chief executive Devin Wenig complained about coverage of the company in an online newsletter called Ecommercebytes published by the Natick couple, Ina and David Steiner.

Under orders from Baugh, Zea had live cockroaches delivered to the Steiners. She also traveled with Baugh to Natick and participated in surveilling the Steiners. Zea later lied to eBay lawyers investigating the scandal.

But she also cooperated to help federal prosecutors unravel the scheme and quickly pleaded guilty after being charged with cyberstalking and obstruction of justice in June 2020.

Judge Young said the case was one of the most important he had presided over in 44 years as a judge, because the actions of the former eBay workers against the Steiners over their reporting represented a threat to the freedom of the press.

“We tolerate in this nation great aggregations of economic power,” Young said. “That power, it has been the experience of this court, is sometimes abused. When it is abused, those who abuse it ought to be brought to account.”

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Ina and David Steiner appeared in court, as they have at the five prior sentencing hearings in the case, to explain how they have been permanently scarred by the scandal.

“Each time I appear brings me forward on a journey, though there will never be a destination called normal,” Ina Steiner said. “The courtroom is an opportunity to shed light on the darkness, as painful as it is.”

The Steiners have also filed a civil suit against the seven defendants, top eBay officials including former CEO Wenig, and other parties. Wenig has not been charged in the case and denied knowing anything about the harassment.

Zea is the second of the seven former eBay workers criminally charged in the case to receive a sentence of probation. Stephanie Stockwell, another junior-level worker in the security department, also received probation.

Four others involved in the scheme, including Baugh, are going to prison.

The seventh defendant, former eBay security senior manager Brian Gilbert, is suffering from colorectal cancer. His sentencing hearing, originally scheduled for Thursday, was postponed indefinitely.


Aaron Pressman can be reached at aaron.pressman@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @ampressman.