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eBay cyberstalking conspirator sentenced to 18 months in prison

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A judge called the case ‘just nuts’

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Former eBay security manager Philip Cooke has been sentenced to 18 months in prison for his role in an intense stalking campaign against a pair of eBay critics. A Massachusetts judge issued the sentence nine months after Cooke pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit cyberstalking and conspiracy to tamper with witnesses. He’s the first of seven former eBay employees to be sentenced after the Justice Department revealed the scheme last year.

In comments reported 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 police officer, admitted to attending a 2019 meeting where eBay employees plotted a Twitter harassment campaign against the 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.

In addition to his prison sentence, Cooke will face three years of supervised release and a $15,000 fine, both of which were 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 he advised against the stalking campaign and believed many of its activities were never carried out. 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.