Former Santa Clara police captain Brian Gilbert allegedly offered to use his Santa Clara Police Department connections to mislead law enforcement about the scheme he and five other eBay security employees concocted to harass publishers of a newsletter critical of eBay’s business practices, according to an affidavit by an FBI special agent on the case.
The conspirators, including Gilbert, were arrested this week and charged with two federal felony counts, conspiracy to commit cyberstalking and conspiracy to tamper with witnesses, according to a June 15 news release by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Massachusetts. In September, eBay fired Gilbert and his five partners in crime.
When local police and then the FBI started investigating the harassment, Gilbert proposed a cover-up creating a phony “person of interest” (POI) that could be connected to the harassment via gift cards purchased in Santa Clara, according to the report. The gift cards were used to order deliveries of everything from pornography to live cockroaches to the victims’ home.
“If needed we create a Samoan POI in Santa Clara,” Gilbert texted his confederates on Aug. 21, 2019. “Then he becomes our primary suspect. This actually might help the entire op.” The group allegedly used two Samoan-sounding names to troll the victims on Twitter.
An eBay employee only identified as Supervisor 1 texted Gilbert, the reports continues.
“Good plan and cover. Brian, important to be convincing so they don’t start looking to find video of who purchased the gift cards. Don’t think they would go that far but is a little concerning. If I was the Detective I would ask you for a local PD context to go get video. Might want to have a ‘friendly’ in mind.”
Veronica “Ronnie” Zea, another member of the conspiracy and also a Santa Clara resident, bought the gift cards at a Santa Clara Safeway, according to the report.
Gilbert replied to Supervisor 1, the report goes on, “I was thinking the same thing. If they bring it up I might volunteer to assist with that. Then we can control the local cop and maybe provide a video from a different Santa Clara Safeway.”
City to Open Investigation into Gilbert’s Conduct in Santa Clara
Santa Clara announced on Thursday that an independent investigator will be engaged to look into whether “there is any evidence that he did the same alleged behavior while employed [by the City],” Director of Communications Lenka Wright told The Weekly in an email. “Due to the length of time since he left City employment, there is some concern about the availability of any potential evidence.”
City Manager Deanna Santana and the police department determined on June 15 — the day the charges became public — “that an independent third-party investigation was appropriate, given the nature of the federal charges against the former employee … combined with his authority while employed by the City,” Wright wrote.
The City anticipates that an investigator “could be selected within the next three to six weeks,” Wright said. The schedule and scope of the investigation will be defined in the agreement.
“I am shocked and saddened by what I’ve read about the federal indictment,” said Santa Clara Police Chief Patrick Nikolai in a statement Friday. “Integrity is one of our core principles and I want to ensure the public that we have systems in place to thwart this type of behavior.”
The FBI hasn’t contacted SCPD so far. “However, we have reached out to them and offered them any assistance we can provide,” Nikolai told The Weekly in an email.
Gilbert had no record of misconduct during his tenure in Santa Clara, according to the City’s announcement, and appears to have been well thought of by his colleagues.
It’s no secret that Nikolai was personal friends with Gilbert.
However, Nikolai’s campaign manager in 2016 was Bryan Sterkel, not Gilbert as some seem to believe. Gilbert was a 2016 donor to Nikolai’s campaign and wrote an editorial in October 2019 for Robert Haugh’s Santa Clara News blog, denigrating retired Chief Mike Sellers and Acting Chief Dan Winter, who was expected to run for police chief.
However, Nikolai is as surprised as everyone else by Gilbert’s involvement in the harassment.
“I had not talked to him for months and he asked to meet me,” Nikolai wrote in an email.
“He told me then that he was the subject of an investigation at the federal level, and that it would be coming out soon. He did not go into specific details of the charges and he apologized for how it was going to make the department look. I have not talked to him since.”
Previously, Gilbert said that he had been let go after former eBay CEO Devin Wenig abruptly stepped down last September, Nikolai said, and that “several people who had been aligned with that executive were let go as new management moved in. Knowing how the private sector can work, this explanation made perfect sense.”
Wenig’s departure from eBay was unrelated to the harassment scheme, the company says.