Update: On July 27, Cooke was sentenced to 18 months in prison, three years of probation and a $15,000 fine. The judge also recommended that Cooke participate in the Bureau of Prisons’ Residential Drug Abuse Program. After release, Cooke will be required to perform 100 hours of community service and get therapy at his own expense.
A former Santa Clara police captain and eBay security official has agreed to a plea deal in the 2019 harassment and stalking campaign against a Natick, MA couple that published a newsletter critical of the online auction giant. The terror campaign was breathtakingly depraved, including deliveries of live cockroaches and a fetal pig, Craigslist announcements of sex parties at the victims’ house, and death threats.
With four other former eBay employees — including another former SCPD captain, Brian Gilbert — Cooke was charged early last summer in the conspiracy and a cover-up scheme that would enlist Santa Clara police.
He pled guilty to conspiracy to commit cyberstalking and witness tampering. The prosecutor is recommending a sentence that includes a maximum of two and a half years of jail time, a $15,000 fine, and a year of supervised release.
Betraying the Badge
Prosecutors are asking for a severe sentence, seeing Cooke’s felony as a profound moral failure that’s all the more egregious in a police officer [cooke prosecutor sentencing memo]
“From a suite of offices in Silicon Valley, defendant Philip Cooke and his coconspirators — all employees or contractors of eBay, Inc. — unleashed the resources of a Fortune 500 company on a Natick couple, whose journalism had angered two of the company’s senior executives,” begins U.S. Assistant Attorney Seth Kosto’s sentencing memorandum.
And Kosto keeps going.
“As a retired police captain with 27 years’ service, Cooke should have appreciated the impact a fraction of this conduct would have on the victims. Instead, he agreed to harass them online in service of a corporate objective…Cooke was not simply a harassing coconspirator.
Cooke ignored the better part of his professional life to protect himself and his friends. Worse, Cooke used his insider’s knowledge of how police departments investigate crime to help obstruct the NPD investigation. That Cooke lent a veneer of credibility to the campaign and the obstruction counsels a significant sentence.”
Blaming the Booze
According to his attorney Susan Winkler in her sentencing memorandum [cooke lawyer sentencing memorandum] Cooke’s involvement in the conspiracy was marginal and resulted from drunken confusion, not moral failure. Winkler argued that Cooke was a well-liked community leader whose foray into felony resulted from post-retirement boredom and alcoholism.
“Prior to events in this case, Mr. Cooke led an exemplary life, one devoted to his family, friends, and community,” she wrote. “But for these crimes, Mr. Cooke has led a truly admirable life, as the many persons who speak on his behalf attest.”
Cooke did have a distinguished record during his 27-year career with Santa Clara PD, including his roles as Incident Commander for Super Bowl 50 for which he received the California Commendation Medal for his service at that event.
Despite his devotion to community service, Cooke “found retirement difficult because of the boredom and lack of purpose,” Winker wrote, quoting Cooke’s wife: “The amount and frequency of his consumption of alcohol increased dramatically. He often wouldn’t remember things that happened when he drank.”
His wife encouraged Cooke to go back to work and he joined Las Vegas private security company, providing security at high tech Silicon Valley campuses and subsequently as an eBay employee — where it appears the booze appeared flowed freely, according to Cooke’s wife.
“I knew Phil and his coworkers had a liquor cabinet at work,” she said in her affidavit, “but what I didn’t know until later was they were taking shots of alcohol in the morning.”
Looking for Leniency
Asking for a lenient sentence, Winkler said the former police captain had “endured extensive punishment already” and “was devastated …and… humiliated.”
Further, Cooke never personally did the harassing, Winkler said.
“When the witness tampering occurred, Mr. Cooke was in India alone and inebriated,” Winkler continued. “As a result of being drunk, Mr. Cooke did not fully comprehend the extent of the misconduct… he found it nearly impossible to believe … his friends and colleagues could or would engage engaged in surveillance, role play, and threatening deliveries that he learned may have happened.”
This argument, said prosecutor Kosto, “does not help his position,” and especially as the text message evidence about misleading Natick police shows Cooke as anything but “unaware.”
Gilbert: I spoke with investigator. He was polite and clueless.
Gilbert: Good. This is fine. The cops obviously have nothing else to do in Natick. We [have] known the targets have been very impacted by this op. Perfect time for next phase.”
Baugh: Bring out bad boy please; these people are wasting our time. It’s go time!
Other texts show that Cooke was very engaged with his comrades, suggesting messages for the harassment texting campaign, including “Good plan, Brian, and cover,” and a ‘thumbs up’ response to using a “friendly” in SCPD to supply misleading evidence to the Natick police.
Winkler is asking for home confinement for her client instead of jail. First, “because of COVID-19, the circumstances of imprisonment are more severe.” Second, “intense media coverage” has already served as a deterrent. And finally, there’s no need to protect people from further crimes by Cooke, who has “dedicated this past year to changing and improving his life.”
Cooke is also asking not to be fined or required to pay restitution, “because his wife’s income will be insufficient to pay his family’s living expenses and she will need his pension for the family’s expenses.” The $15,000 fine the prosecutor is recommending is less than Cooke’s monthly pension.
The prosecutor doesn’t buy Winkler’s portrait of an unblemished community hero whose crimes were anomalies driven by alcoholism.
Cooke’s conduct was a “betrayal of the idea behind the badge he once wore,” Kosto wrote. “A troubling aspect of Cooke’s conviction is how quickly he abandoned the responsibility he owed the Victims.”
Cooke’s former SCPD and eBay colleague Brian Gilbert was also charged in the conspiracy, and has also signed a plea deal for similar terms. Cooke’s sentencing hearing is currently scheduled for July 27 while Gilbert’s is currently scheduled for September 30.
On July 21, the victims, David and Ina Steiner, filed a lawsuit against eBay, the individual participants, an eBay subcontractor and former top eBay executives Devin Wenig and Steven Wymer, charging that the criminal campaign was instigated by Wenig and Wymer, who had promised to “manage the fallout.”
The connection of the conspiracy to Wenig and Wymer is clear in FBI testimony and the prosecutor’s sentencing memo, although those documents don’t name the two. They are named in the Steiners’ lawsuit. [steiner lawsuit against ebay]
Because the crimes they are alleged to have committed were not in the course of their employment with SCPD, Cooke and Gilbert won’t lose their pensions: $222,401 and $207,562 respectively.