A seventh former employee of eBay, Inc. has been charged with participating in a cyberstalking campaign targeting a Natick, Mass. couple who published a newsletter that eBay executives viewed as critical of the company.
Philip Cooke, 55, of San Jose, Calif., a former police captain in Santa Clara, Calif., and a supervisor of security operations at eBay’s European and Asian offices, was charged by Information with conspiracy to commit cyberstalking and conspiracy to tamper with witnesses.
According to charging documents, Cooke conspired with six other former eBay employees: David Harville, 48, of New York City; James Baugh, 45, of San Jose, Calif.; Stephanie Popp, 32, of San Jose, Calif.; Stephanie Stockwell, 26, of Redwood City, Calif.; Veronica Zea, 26, of San Jose, Calif.; and Brian Gilbert, 51, of San Jose, Calif. Harville and Baugh were charged on June 15, 2020, with conspiracy to commit cyberstalking and conspiracy to tamper with witnesses.
The charging documents identified Cooke as “Supervisor 1.” A previously filed Information charging Gilbert, Popp, Stockwell, and Zea with the same offenses was also unsealed on June 15, 2020.
According to the charging documents, the victims of the cyberstalking campaign were a Natick couple who are the editor and publisher of an online newsletter that covers ecommerce companies, including eBay.
Members of eBay’s executive leadership team followed the newsletter’s posts, often taking issue with its content and the anonymous comments underneath the editor’s stories.
Multiphased Cyberstalking Campaign
It is alleged that in August 2019, the defendants allegedly executed a three-part harassment campaign. Among other things, several of the defendants ordered anonymous and disturbing deliveries to the victims’ home, including a preserved fetal pig, a bloody pig Halloween mask, a funeral wreath, a book on surviving the loss of a spouse, and pornography – the last of these addressed to the newsletter’s publisher but sent to his neighbors’ homes.
As part of the second phase of the campaign, some of the defendants allegedly sent private Twitter messages and public tweets criticizing the newsletter’s content and threatening to visit the victims in Natick.
The charging documents allege that Cooke, Baugh, Gilbert, and Popp planned these messages to become increasingly disturbing, culminating with “doxing” the victims (i.e., publishing their home address).
It is alleged that the same group intended then to have Gilbert, a former Santa Clara police captain, approach the victims with an offer to help stop the harassment that the defendants were secretly causing, in an effort to promote goodwill towards eBay, generate more favorable coverage in the newsletter, and identify the individuals behind the anonymous comments.
The third phase of the campaign allegedly involved covertly surveilling the victims in their home and community. The victims spotted the surveillance, however, and notified the Natick police, who began to investigate.
Aware that the police were investigating, the defendants allegedly sought to interfere with the investigation by lying to the police about eBay’s involvement while pretending to offer the company’s assistance with the harassment, as well as by lying to eBay’s lawyers about their involvement.
For example, it is alleged that Cooke and several of the other defendants discussed the possibility of presenting Natick Police with a false investigative lead to keep the police from discovering video evidence that could link some of the deliveries to eBay employees. As the police and eBay’s lawyers continued to investigate, the defendants allegedly deleted digital evidence that showed their involvement, further obstructing what had by then become a federal investigation.
No Executive Level Charges (Yet?)
Usually, federal prosecutors do not charge piecemeal like this. They tend to allow the investigation to conclude until it satisfies them they have exhausted the evidence and worked their way to the top of the pyramid in a conspiracy.
The revelation of a seventh charge appears to suggest the federal investigators are still trying to connect more dots, potentially attempting to link leadership executives to the alleged criminal conspiracy.
In previous court documents, the Feds identified two leadership executives as “Executive 1” and “Executive 2,” widely believed to be former eBay CEO Devin Wenig and former eBay CCO Steve Wymer, in text messages that eBay termed as “inappropriate.”
The text messages by themselves are disturbing but apparently are not enough to directly link one or both executives to the alleged conspiracy as neither Wenig nor Wymer has been charged in this matter by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Also, both executives have publically denied knowledge and involvement in the alleged cyberstalking campaign, but their text messages have raised questions about the corporate culture at eBay during their reign.
Erik Gordon, a professor at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan in a quote to the Detroit Free Press said, “If Don Corleone says, ‘That guy should take a swim with the fishes’ and one of his lieutenants shoots the guy in the back of the head, you could find a law firm that would say the Don’s communications were inappropriate, but not find evidence that he knew in advance or authorized the shooting.”
And Steven Levy, in an article for Wired, wondered why no one at eBay stood up to say, “What the hell are we doing? This is eBay, not the KGB!”
eBay CEO Jamie Iannone, who joined the company in April, has been quiet about this affair in the press but addressed the situation at the annual shareholder meeting last month, promising the company would adhere to his values.
“The events from last year never should have happened, yet it gives us a chance to reflect, to reset and to act,” he said. “Integrity is the foundation of how I work, and as CEO, I will hold our leadership team and all employees to this same standard.”