Former College Track and Field Coach Pleads Guilty to Cyber Fraud Scheme to Obtain Explicit Photos of Innocent Women from Across the Country
BOSTON – 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. Cooke will appear in federal court in Boston at a later date.
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.
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 good will 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.
The charges of conspiracy to commit cyberstalking and conspiracy to tamper with witnesses each carry a sentence of up to five years in prison, three years of supervised release, a fine of up to $250,000 and restitution. Sentences are imposed by a federal district court judge based upon the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
United States Attorney Andrew E. Lelling; Joseph R. Bonavolonta, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Boston Field Division; and Natick Chief of Police James G. Hicks made the announcement today. eBay provided valuable assistance and cooperation with the federal investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Seth B. Kosto and David J. D’Addio of Lelling’s Securities, Financial and Cyber Fraud Unit are prosecuting the case.
The details contained in charging documents are allegations. The defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.