Monday, September 20, 2021

eBay cyberstalking conspirator sentenced to 18 months in prison

Philip Cooke, an ex-email security manager, has been sentenced for 18 months to prison for his involvement in a massive stalking campaign against two eBay critics. Nine months after Cooke pleaded guilty, a Massachusetts judge sentenced him to 18 months in prison. He’s the first of seven former eBay employees to be sentenced after the Justice Department revealed the scheme last year.

Comment by Bloomberg, US District Judge Allison Burroughs called the case — which saw eBay employees harassing husband-and-wife publishing team Ina and David Steiner with a funeral wreath, live cockroaches, and a bloody-faced pig mask — “just nuts.”

Cooke, a former cop, admitted to having attended a 2019 meeting at which eBay employees plotted to launch a Twitter harassment campaign against Steiners and their publication EcommerceBytes. He was involved in later discussions about more serious offenses, including mailing the threatening items and traveling to the couple’s home to conduct surveillance, and he helped sabotage a police investigation into the crime. “The idea of all these grown people sitting around coming up with this plan is unfathomable to me,” Burroughs said.

Cooke will serve a three-year sentence in prison, as well as a $15,000 fine and supervised release. These were both requested by federal prosecutors. Four of Cooke’s fellow conspirators also pleaded guilty last year, and the Steiners have filed a civil lawsuit against the group.

Prosecutors had asked the court for a prison sentence of two and a half years for Cooke, describing his actions as part of a “three-week nightmare” for the journalists. “Cooke ignored the better part of his professional life to protect himself and his friends. Worse, Cooke used his insider’s knowledge of how police departments investigate crime to help obstruct the NPD investigation,” reads a sentencing memorandum.

Cooke claimed that he advised against the stalking campaign, and that many of its activities were never executed. He said the plan’s alleged architect — former eBay senior director of safety and security James Baugh, who has not pleaded guilty — had a pattern of “messing with him” through inappropriate and “incredible” messages. And he blamed his behavior partly on a drinking problem exacerbated by eBay’s culture, saying in a sentencing memorandum that “drinking was part of the culture, with alcohol present throughout the office space where it was typical to take morning shots of alcohol with coworkers.”

Prosecutors claimed that high-level executives — including former CEO Devin Wenig — bore a bitter grudge against the Steiners for their critical coverage of eBay. Baugh allegedly began his harassment campaign after a text conversation with Wenig and communications chief Steve Wymer, with Wenig saying it was time to “take her down.” But neither man was charged as part of the scheme. eBay, which was also not charged, issued an apology but said it found “no evidence” that Wenig had known of the campaign.

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