A former Santa Clara police sergeant has pleaded guilty in a federal court to charges of conspiracy to commit cyberstalking and conspiracy to tamper with witnesses. Philip Cooke entered the plea in front of U.S. District Court Judge in Massachusetts earlier this week. He is scheduled to return to court on Feb. 24, 2021 for sentencing.
The FBI says while Cooke was the supervisor of security operations for eBay’s European and Asian offices, he conspired with six other people including former Santa Clara police captain Brian Gilbert, to carry out a harassment campaign against Massachusetts newsletter publishers. Investigators say the newsletter covered ecommerce companies including eBay and that eBay executive leadership often took issue with the content published in the newsletter and the reader comments.
Gilbert is scheduled to appear in court on Thursday, Oct. 29 and is also expected to plead guilty to the conspiracy charges.
Charges of conspiracy to commit cyberstalking and conspiracy to tamper with witnesses carry a sentence of up to five years in prison for each charge. There is also three years of supervised release, a fine of up to $250,000 and restitution.
Investigators say in August 2019, Cooke, Gilbert and the other conspirators began a three-part harassment campaign against the publishers that started with the anonymous delivery of disturbing items to the publishers including a bloody pig Halloween mask and a book on surviving the loss of a spouse.
In the second phase, the conspirators are accused of sending private Twitter messages and public tweets that included threats to visit the victims. Investigators say Cooke and Gilbert were involved in making sure the messages became more disturbing and eventually led to publishing the victims’ home address, a practice known as “doxing.”
According to a news release from the Department of Justice, “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.”
The third phase included surveilling the victims.
Investigators say Cooke and several of the other defendants tried to mislead investigators and deleted digital evidence to obstruct the federal investigation.
Both Cooke and Gilbert were retired from the Santa Clara Police Department (SCPD) when the alleged cyberstalking and witness tampering took place. As The Weekly previously reported, because the alleged crimes were not committed during their employment with SCPD, they will not lose their pensions. Cooke receives a pension of $222,401 annually, while Gilbert receives a pension of $207,562 annually.
The City has launched an independent investigation to look into whether there was any wrongdoing by either officer during their time employed by the City.
“The City of Santa Clara is committed to completing the independent third-party investigation into the conduct of former employees Phil Cooke and Brian Gilbert while employed as police officers for the City,” said Lon Peterson, Santa Clara’s Director of Communications. “We look forward to sharing the results of the investigation when completed.”