A former police captain and supervisor of security operations for eBay's European and Asian offices pleaded guilty Tuesday to his role in a cyberstalking campaign.
It included having live spiders and other disturbing deliveries sent to a Massachusetts couple, David and Ina Steiner, who published an online newsletter on ECommerceBytes.com that was critical of the online auction site.
Philip Cooke, 55, of San Jose, California, who was the a former captain with the Santa Clara force, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit cyberstalking and conspiracy to tamper with witnesses, according to a statement from federal prosecutors in Boston.
He is scheduled to be sentenced February 24. Each charge carries a maximum of five years in prison but he is likely to be given a 30-month sentence after a deal was reached with prosecutors.
He is the fifth former eBay employee out of seven charged in the case to plead guilty including onetime eBay security executives James Baugh and David Harville, who prosecutors said targeted the Steiner's in Natick with threatening messages and unwanted deliveries such as a box of live cockroaches and funeral wreaths.
Prosecutors said the defendants also sent pornography in the couple's name to neighbors and conducted covert surveillance in a bid to terrorize them and deter them from criticizing eBay.
They did so after two top executives expressed frustration with the online newsletter, EcommerceBytes.
The executives included former Chief Executive Devin Wenig, who a person familiar with the matter has said is the 'Executive 1' identified in court papers.
Prosecutors said Wenig texted the other executive after the newsletter's editor published an article about eBay, saying it was time to 'take her down.'
Wenig has not been charged and has denied knowing about the scheme. Wenig's spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.
Earlier this month Stephanie Popp, 32, former senior manager of global intelligence, and Veronica Zea, 26, a contractor who worked as an intelligence analyst, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit cyberstalking and to tamper with witnesses.
Former eBay senior director of safety and security James Baugh, 45, and David Harville, 48, ex-director of global resiliency, are accused of leading the campaign.
They are also charged with conspiracy to commit cyberstalking and conspiracy to commit witness tampering.
Two other former eBay employees, Brian Gilbert, 51, of San Jose, a former senior manager of special operations for eBay's global security team; and Stephanie Stockwell, 26, of Redwood City, California, former manager of eBay's Global Intelligence Center, are also scheduled to plead guilty on Thursday.
The harassment campaign started in August 2019 and included three distinct parts, prosecutors said.
One part included sending disturbing deliveries to the couple's home, including a preserved fetal pig and a book on surviving the loss of a spouse.
The strange packages continued to arrive over a period of several weeks, with the content of each growing increasingly bizarre. Fly larvae, spiders and roaches. were all delivered.
After the bloody pig mask was delivered, Ina Steiner received a message on Twitter saying: 'DO I HAVE UR ATTENTION NOW????,' court documents show.
The employees also sent pornographic magazines with the husband's name on them to their neighbor's house and took out an ad on Craigslist inviting 'singles, couples and swingers' to come over to the newsletter publisher's home to party each night.
The second phase included sending private Twitter messages and public tweets criticizing the newsletter's content, the posting of their home address, and threats to visit the victims, authorities said.
They also planned to break into the couple's garage to install a GPS device on their car, and advertised things like yard sales at their address and encouraged strangers to knock on the door if the pair wasn't outside, officials said.
The third phase of the twisted plot involved surveillance, and secretly surveilling the victims in their home. The victims spotted the unusual behavior reported it to local police, who started the investigation, prosecutors said.
The defendants then allegedly tried to stymie that investigation, including deleting digital evidence, prosecutors said.
Joseph Bonavolonta, the FBI special agent leading the case, said the group was inspired by the movie Johnny Be Good, a 1988 sports comedy in which friends arranged a series of 'unwanted and distracting items and people' delivered to their football coach's home, including an elephant and a male stripper.
Court documents allege that Baugh, Gilbert, Popp and another eBay security employee planned the messages to become increasingly disturbing, culminating with 'doxxing' the victims by publishing their home address online.
It is alleged that the eBay staffers intended then to have Gilbert, another former Santa Clara police captain, approach the victims with an offer to help stop the harassment in an effort to promote good will towards eBay and generate more favorable coverage in the newsletter.
An internal investigation was launched after eBay was notified by law enforcement in August 2019 of 'suspicious actions by its security personnel,' company officials wrote in a prepared statement.
The victims were targeted after their newsletter published an article about a lawsuit filed by eBay that accused Amazon of poaching its sellers, investigators said.
San Jose, California-based eBay fired the employees.