A former security officer for EBay has been sentenced to 18 months in prison and fined $15,000 for his part in a harassment campaign carried out in 2019 against a pair of bloggers who were critical of the firm.
Philip Cooke, previously a cop for the Santa Clara (Calif.) Police Department, also faces three years of supervised release after he gets out of prison.
Judge Allison Burroughs, handing down the sentence Tuesday in Massachusetts District Court in Boston, called Cooke’s actions “abominable,” according to Reuters.
“It’s almost unfathomable to me,” Burroughs said. “I’m not sure if I saw it on television I would find it believable.”
Cooke is one of six charged last June in a case involving an elaborate stalking campaign against Ina and David Steiner, a Natick, Massachusetts, couple that publishes ECommerceBytes, a blog that has criticized the way EBay has treated some of its online sellers.
Carried out in the fall of 2019, the campaign began with threats and vulgar attacks from an anonymous Twitter account, and escalated to the posting of gruesome parcels containing live spiders, a bloody Halloween pig’s mask and a book about dealing with the death of a spouse.
Cooke had confessed last fall to one count of conspiracy to commit cyberstalking, and a second count of conspiracy to commit witness tampering.
The others charged include Brian Gilbert, another former Santa Clara cop who also went to work for EBay. Gilbert’s sentencing is set for September 30.
Cooke, Gartner and three others all struck plea deals for their parts in the case. Two EBay security supervisors, Stephanie Popp and Jim Baugh, face more severe charges. Both have denied wrongdoing and are seeking court trials.
Former EBay CEO Devin Wenig and ex-Communications Chief Steve Wymer, referenced in the charging documents only by their titles, allegedly got the campaign rolling with an exchange of text messages. The charging document states that Wenig wrote: “If we are ever going to take her down, now is that time to do it.” It states that Wymer relayed the message to a subordinate, writing “Amen. I want her DONE.”
Neither Wenig or Wymer were charged criminally, but they were named as defendants in a civil suit filed last week by the Steiners.
The Steiners spoke at the Cooke’s sentencing, saying it was a nightmarish ordeal that made them afraid to leave their home, Reuters reported.
“We were terrified,” Ina Steiner said.
Cooke’s defense attorney pleaded for leniency in the case, stating that Cooke was a hard-working, decorated veteran of the local police force who had succumbed to boredom and alcohol abuse after he left the force. The problem got even worse when he began his post-policing security career at Silicon Valley tech firms such as Facebook and EBay, which offered free alcohol to employees on their corporate campuses, the lawyer wrote. (See the defense’s sentencing memorandum.) The defense asked for home confinement rather than prison and no fine.
However, the prosecution noted that Cooke played a key role in the harassment campaign and that as a former cop, “Cooke’s knowledge and experience were an important component in the planning, execution, and obstruction of the offense.”
The prosecutor asked for 30 months in prison and a $15,000 fine, which, as noted in the government’s sentencing memorandum, is less than Cooke’s $17,900 monthly pension from the police department.