The first of five former eBay Inc. employees who were convicted of running an elaborate cyberstalking conspiracy against a couple who put out an e-commerce newsletter was sentenced to 1 1/2 years in prison for his role in the plot.
Former senior global security manager Philip Cooke, who spent 27 years with the Santa Clara, California, police department before going to work for eBay, was sentenced on Tuesday in federal court in Boston. The U.S. had sought 2 1/2 years, while his lawyers asked the judge to order home confinement.
The macabre campaign against Ina and David Steiner of Natick, Massachusetts, whose E-commerceByte blog has been critical of eBay, included anonymous threatening tweets and menacing deliveries, such as a bloody pig mask, live insects, a funeral wreath and a book on surviving the death of a spouse, according to the U.S.
The former employees, not including Cooke, traveled to Boston, rented a van and conducted surveillance on the couple’s home, the government alleges. Investigators say the squad also tried to break into the couple’s garage to place a tracker on their vehicle.
The conduct in the case was “just nuts,” U.S. District Judge Allison Burroughs said on Tuesday before sentencing Cooke, 56.
“The idea of all these grown people sitting around coming up with this plan is unfathomable to me,” she said.
EBay, which wasn’t charged, has said it was “extremely cooperative with the investigation in helping state and federal authorities figure out what had happened and collect evidence of the crime.”
Cooke admitted he took part in a security team planning meeting in San Jose for the conspiracy against the Steiners. In August 2019 Cooke texted two thumbs-up emojis to a co-worker in a chat about the campaign. He also tried to help the team mislead local police.
Cooke said “a twisted sense of loyalty to all the wrong people” led him to forget about the victims.
“I spent years protecting people, but I failed to do that for you,” he told the Steiners, who were in the courtroom. “I’m very sorry.”
In addition to apologizing to the Steiners, Cooke also apologized to Natick Police. He lamented his choices that “betrayed good cops around the country.”
“I never thought I’d be that guy, but I am and I’m disgusted for it,” he said.
Federal prosecutors said in a court filing that while Cooke’s role was not as central to the campaign as that of his superiors in security, he betrayed “the idea behind the badge he once wore” and failed to try to stop his co-workers from traveling to the Steiners’ home.
The Steiners are suing eBay and the seven former employees the U.S. has accused of conspiracy. They claim they are victims of “corporate terrorism” that has caused them continuing psychological harm.
Ina Steiner said she is still plagued by anxiety and fear.
There’s one place where you’re supposed to be safe, home,” she told the judge. “The people who attacked me took that away from me.”
David Steiner said they attended in person because they wanted Cooke to see “we were not a faceless concept at the end of a tweet, or email, that we were flesh and blood human beings deeply affected by his actions.”