Macabre EBay Case Sees Second Ex-Police Captain Plead Guilty

A former top eBay Inc. security executive pleaded guilty to cyberstalking conspiracy and witness tampering in a bizarre harassment campaign against a couple whose critical blog posts outraged company executives.

Brian Gilbert, who was the online auctioneer’s senior global security manager, is the second ex-security official -- and former Santa Clara, California, police captain -- to plead guilty in the case, following Philip Cooke, who was responsible for eBay’s European and Asian offices.

In a deal Cooke struck with prosecutors, the U.S. will recommend he serve 2 1/2 years in prison, under federal sentencing guidelines. Gilbert’s agreement is still in flux. The government is recommending three years and one month, while Gilbert contends it should be 2 1/2 years and reserved the right to argue the matter at his sentencing in May.

In a hearing by videoconference on Thursday in federal court in Boston, the judge asked him why he was pleading guilty.

“Because it’s the right thing to do,” said Gilbert, 52. “I made a mistake and I need to own up to it.”

‘Totally rattled’

The acts at the center of the case go back to the summer of 2019, when the eBay security team allegedly sent disturbing items such as a bloody pig mask, live insects and a book on surviving the death of a spouse to the suburban Boston couple who put out the blog.

The team also posted the Natick home address of the couple, Ina and David Steiner, online in advertisements for sex parties and estate sales, according to the U.S.

At Thursday’s hearing, the Steiners’ names appeared in a pair of Zoom boxes to signal the couple’s attendance.

The U.S. says Gilbert called the Steiners pretending to offer eBay’s help and timing the call to follow threatening anonymous Twitter messages sent by Stephanie Popp, who was senior manager of global intelligence.

“Just made phone contact” with the couple, he said in a group text to his colleagues, according to court documents. “They are totally rattled and immediately referred me to Natick PD Detective [omitted].”

Under her own plea deal, the U.S. has recommended Popp serve three years and five months.

Scheme Unravels

When local police began uncovering the scheme, Gilbert and Cooke conspired to throw them off the trail, according to court documents. Fearing the police would trace gift cards bought anonymously at a California Safeway, Gilbert contrived to keep them from seeing any store videotape of the eBay worker buying the cards, the U.S. says.

“If they bring it up, I might volunteer to assist with that,” Gilbert said in a group text, according to court documents. “Then we can control the local cop, and maybe provide a video from a different Santa Clara Safeway.”

Gilbert gathered information from the police and reported it back to the eBay team, the U.S. says. He warned the team, for example, that the police had tracked one of its members to the Ritz-Carlton in Boston, where she was staying, and that they knew prank pizza deliveries to the victims had been paid for with the gift cards, according to the government.

Stephanie Stockwell, who managed eBay’s Global Intelligence Center, also pleaded guilty on Thursday. Prosecutors are recommending a maximum of two years for Stockwell, 26.

The final decision on the sentences will be up to U.S. District Judge William Young. Stockwell will be sentenced on March 11, Gilbert on May 6.

The case is U.S. v. Baugh, 20-mj-2398, U.S. District Court, District of Massachusetts (Boston).

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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