Crime

Former Northeastern coach allegedly solicited nude photos of student-athletes in online schemes

Investigators are seeking to identify more victims.

Rodrique Ngowi / AP, File

A former Northeastern University track and field coach is facing federal charges after prosecutors allege he created fake social media and email accounts and cyberstalked student-athletes to obtain their nude photos.

On Wednesday, Steve Waithe, 28, of Chicago, was arrested and charged with one count each of cyberstalking and wire fraud, according to the Massachusetts U.S. Attorney’s office.

Waithe was slated to make an initial court appearance in Illinois Wednesday afternoon. He will appear in Boston federal court at a later date, officials said.

Prosecutors say Waithe was employed by various universities, including Penn State University, Illinois Institute of Technology, the University of Tennessee, Concordia University Chicago, and Northeastern University, where he worked from October 2018 to February 2019.

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During that time, Waithe allegedly asked to use female athletes’ cellphones “under the pretense of filming their form at practice and at meets,” officials said in a statement.

“At times, he was observed ‘scrolling through’ the phones,” according to the U.S. attorney’s office.

Officials allege Waithe began, in at least February of last year, contacting female Northeastern track and field athletes through social media accounts under pseudonyms in an attempt to solicit nude or semi-nude photos of them.

Using account names such as “Privacy Protector, “Katie Janovich,” and “Anon” with various numbers, he allegedly told prospective victims he found compromising photos of them online and offered to help get the photos removed from the internet, according to prosecutors.

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Waithe allegedly requested photos from the students in order to purportedly use them for “reverse image searches,” officials said.

“As detailed in court documents, from at least June 21, 2020 to Oct. 3, 2020, Waithe cyber stalked at least one female Northeastern student-athlete through messages sent via social media, an anonymized phone number and intrusion into her Snapchat account,” prosecutors said. “The investigation revealed that internet search and browsing history tied to Waithe allegedly included searches for information on how to hack Snapchat accounts and visits to webpages with titles like, ‘Can anyone trace my fake Instagram account back to me?'”

Waithe also contacted athletes by email, under the guise of fraudulent studies centering on “athlete research” or “body development,” authorities said.

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Using the names “Katie Janovich” or “Kathryn Svoboda,” Waithe allegedly requested information such as height, weight, and diet habits from prospective victims.

“The emails also included a request for the victims to send photos of themselves in a ‘uniform or bathing suit to show as much skin as possible’ and suggested that the photos would not be shared or saved,” officials said in the statement. “The emails often included attachments of sample nude and semi-nude images of ‘Katie’ to illustrate the types of photos that victims should send.”

Prosecutors say investigators have identified over 10 victims of the research scheme and “over 300 related nude and semi-nude images of victims of the scheme in Waithe’s email accounts.”

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In an emailed statement, Northeastern University spokesperson Renata Nyul told Boston.com Wednesday that Waithe was fired from his position at the university in February 2019 “as a result of a university investigation into his inappropriate conduct toward female student athletes.”

“Impacted students were provided with counseling and other resources,” Nyul said in the statement. “The university also contacted federal law enforcement officials and worked in full cooperation for the duration of the federal investigation.”

Nyul said Northeastern does not comment on active litigation or criminal trials and that questions about the case should be directed to prosecutors.

The FBI is working to identify more potential victims of Waithe’s alleged schemes. Victims can complete a form online for the FBI to contact them. All identities of the victims will be kept confidential, officials said.

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According to prosecutors, Waithe can face up to five years in prison, three years of supervised release, and a fine of $250,000 for the cyberstalking charge, and a sentence of up to 20 years in prison, three years of supervised release, and a fine of $250,000 for the wire fraud charge.

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