Lawsuit: eBay tried to “terrorize, stalk and silence” couple that ran news site

Enlarge / A bloody pig mask mailed to cyberstalking victims by then-eBay employees.

A previous eBay protection official who pleaded guilty for his purpose in a cyberstalking conspiracy has questioned for leniency in sentencing while blaming his actions in part on a “consuming lifestyle” at eBay that contributed to his alcoholism.

“eBay experienced a bar on campus that opened at 3:00 p.m., and drinking was element of the culture, with alcohol present all through the workplace area in which it was common to acquire early morning shots of alcohol with co-workers,” a sentencing memorandum for 56-calendar year-old defendant Philip Cooke stated yesterday. It was submitted in US District Court for the District of Massachusetts.

Cooke was senior supervisor of safety operations for eBay’s World wide Security Crew, making an annual income of $185,000, when he performed a function in the harassment of a couple that operated a information web page. The harassment—in reaction to news coverage that eBay executives did not like—involved sending threatening messages and deliveries of reside cockroaches, a funeral wreath, and a bloody pig mask to the couple’s residence in Natick, Massachusetts. Cooke was promoted by eBay to Director of Stability Operations and given a increase to $205,000 in June 2020, about 10 months right after the cyberstalking campaign began and just before it grew to become community.

Ex-CEO among defendants in match towards eBay

In addition to legal fees, Cooke is a single of the defendants in a lawsuit filed by the harassment victims nowadays. Ina and David Steiner of Natick, who operate information web-site EcommerceBytes, filed the grievance versus eBay and the alleged perpetrators of the cyberstalking in the similar US District Court docket. Defendants contain eBay by itself, previous eBay CEO Devin Wenig previous eBay Main Communications Officer Steven Wymer and Progressive F.O.R.C.E Concepts (PFC), a security agency that used Cooke as a contractor just before he turned a whole-time eBay worker.

“eBay… engaged in a coordinated exertion to intimidate, threaten to get rid of, torture, terrorize, stalk and silence the Steiners, in get to stifle their reporting on eBay,” the lawsuit alleged.

The lawsuit stated that Wenig and Wymer:

offered the other Defendants with carte blanche authority to terminate the reporting of the Steiners by no matter what usually means important, with Defendant Wymer expressing “… I want to see ashes. As extensive as it can take. No matter what it will take.” Defendant Wymer promised the defendants he would “embrace handling any poor fallout” if the approach went south, even further directing, “We will need to Stop her.” All of the horrific, vicious and sickening conduct that adopted was committed by workers of eBay and PFC, whilst acting in the scope of their work below the authority of and for the benefit of eBay and PFC.

Wenig and Wymer were not strike with prison fees when other eBay employees had been arrested and billed last 12 months.

The Steiners’ lawsuit claimed:

Starting with an on the internet intimidation marketing campaign, the defendants taunted Ina Steiner utilizing a phony Twitter take care of pretending to be an eBay vendor, and instantly threatened her to quit reporting on eBay. The on the web assaults ongoing to escalate into threatening and disturbing offer deliveries, which involved live spiders, cockroaches, a bloody pig mask, a funeral wreath, and a ebook entitled “Grief Diaries: Surviving Reduction of a Wife or husband” despatched straight to David Steiner. These messages and deliveries frequently ended up accompanied by ominous simultaneous Twitter messages these kinds of as “do I have your awareness now, cunt?” Shockingly graphic and vulgar messages, this kind of as “U are ill motha fuckers…and each a single will kno! U fuckin cunt ass bitch!” paired with taunting emails and deliveries, which include pornography and “Hustler: Barely Authorized” magazines sent to the Steiner’s neighbors’ property in David Steiner’s identify, to defame the Steiners and attempt to shame them and tarnish their name in just their community.

Some of the conspirators traveled from California to Massachusetts and, among the other items, “menacingly stalked and tailed the Steiners in a black van and other rental motor vehicles, consistently circling the block, monitoring their every move, and next David Steiner when he left the residence. The defendants even went as much as to try to crack into the Steiner garage in purchase to set up a GPS tracking device on their car or truck,” the lawsuit mentioned.

eBay issued a assertion very last calendar year that claimed an “internal investigation identified that, when Mr. Wenig’s communications ended up inappropriate, there was no evidence that he knew in advance about or approved the steps that were later directed toward the blogger and her husband.”

eBay offered a statement to Ars now, saying, “The misconduct of these previous workers was incorrect, and we will do what is fair and correct to consider to address what the Steiners went through. The situations from 2019 really should in no way have occurred, and as eBay expressed to the Steiners, we are extremely sorry for what they endured. As famous by the US Attorney’s Office when this make a difference 1st arrived to light-weight, eBay cooperated fully with the government’s investigation, noting that ‘eBay was extremely cooperative with the investigation in aiding condition and federal authorities determine out what had transpired and collect proof of the criminal offense.'”

eBay “culture” exacerbated alcoholic beverages dilemma

Cooke’s sentencing memorandum quotations his spouse as indicating that a “ingesting culture at eBay” exacerbated an alcohol abuse difficulty that got worse immediately after Cooke retired from a job as a captain in the Santa Clara Law enforcement Division. Cooke went to get the job done for Progressive F.O.R.C.E Concepts about a 12 months just after retiring from police function, and “although the position delivered a area to go, a reason, and new colleagues, it did not take care of his ingesting trouble.” Following getting a total-time work at eBay in April 2019, Cooke “ongoing to drink greatly, primarily with his friends and colleagues.” That was a several months prior to the cyberstalking campaign started.

“When he returned to eBay as an worker, Phil’s consuming trouble turned even even worse,” his wife explained in the memorandum. “I recall one time Phil failed to appear home from perform until around 4am the following day. When I requested him in which he experienced been, he stated he shut down a bar with his coworkers and slept in his automobile for a few several hours right up until he felt harmless to travel residence. I knew Phil and his coworkers had a liquor cupboard at function, but what I did not know until eventually afterwards was they had been taking shots of alcoholic beverages in the early morning.”

Cooke’s submitting requested the court docket for a sentence of “property confinement for whatever period of time the Court docket believes is essential, 12 months supervised launch, a $200 specific evaluation, no restitution (as none has been requested), and no great.”

The filing went on:

As a consequence of this prosecution, Mr. Cooke has endured substantial punishment by now… He dropped a job he appreciated, was devastated by the disappointment he triggered his family members, and was humiliated in his community—a neighborhood he honorably and faithfully served [as a police officer] for 30 a long time. He has recognized entire obligation for his misconduct, is very remorseful for his bad alternatives, and wants to do what ever it usually takes to set his everyday living suitable. Considering the fact that accepting obligation, he has resolved his material abuse issue, remained sober, and properly educated to aid conferences in a substance abuse program in California for both other material abusers and also for their buddies and family members.

The doc downplays Cooke’s role in the conspiracy, saying that he didn’t vacation to Massachusetts and that warned fellow staff against some of the worst areas of the approach. The submitting reported:

Though Mr. Cooke joined the approach to engage in a “white knight tactic” to ship harassing and nameless Twitter messages to soften up the victims for eBay’s safety team’s guidance, and seen at minimum some draft messages in link with that scheme, he was not personally associated in two or far more individual “instances” of harassing the same target. His involvement is far more fairly described as a single “training course of perform” or “a sample of carry out comprised of 2 or extra functions evidencing a continuity of reason sample of exercise.”

Responsible pleas by five ex-eBay staff

Cooke pleaded responsible in Oct 2020 to one particular depend of conspiracy to dedicate cyberstalking and a person rely of conspiracy to commit witness tampering. Each individual cost carries a maximum sentence of 5 a long time in jail, three a long time of supervised release, a great of up to $250,000, and restitution.

Four other former eBay stability employees pleaded guilty in Oct 2020. They are Brian Gilbert, previous senior manager of unique functions for eBay’s International Stability Workforce Stephanie Stockwell, previous manager of eBay’s World Intelligence Centre Stephanie Popp, eBay’s previous senior supervisor of World wide Intelligence and Veronica Zea, a former eBay contractor who was an intelligence analyst in eBay International Intelligence. Like Cooke, all four pleaded responsible to costs of conspiracy to dedicate cyberstalking and conspiracy to tamper with witnesses and are ready to be sentenced.

Even though the harassment circumstance will involve only eBay, the sentencing memorandum noted a similar drinking society at Facebook.

“I did not know about the drinking lifestyle at eBay and Facebook,” Cooke’s wife claimed in a statement quoted in the memorandum. “Initially, he worked as a contractor for eBay which has a bar on campus the place he would drink with his coworkers. They would usually leave that bar and go in excess of to a community bar/restaurant and carry on consuming until finally late at night time. Then he started off doing the job at Facebook wherever they authorized ingesting for the duration of the day and would generally have totally free alcoholic beverages offered.”

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