A former Northeastern University track-and-field coach was arrested in connection with a scheme to trick female athletes into sending him nude or seminude photos, federal prosecutors announced on Wednesday.
The former coach, Steve Waithe, 28, of Chicago, was charged with one count of cyberstalking and one count of wire fraud, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts said in a statement.
From October 2018 to February 2019, Mr. Waithe worked as a track-and-field coach at Northeastern University in Boston, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. During that time, prosecutors said, he asked to use female athletes’ cellphones “under the pretense of filming their form at practice and at meets,” according to the statement. At times, he was observed “scrolling through” the phones while holding the devices as if he were recording video, the complaint said.
Beginning in February 2020, Mr. Waithe orchestrated a scheme to trick female athletes into sending him nude or seminude photos of themselves, prosecutors said.
Mr. Waithe contacted the victims through social media accounts and claimed that he had found compromising photos of them online and offered to “help” them get the photos removed from the internet, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.
While using assorted pseudonyms, including variations on “Privacy Protector,” “Katie Janovich” and “Anon,” Mr. Waithe requested the photos from the students, ostensibly to conduct “reverse image searches,” according to the statement.
From at least June 2020 through October 2020, Mr. Waithe cyberstalked at least one athlete at Northeastern via messages on social media, an anonymized phone number and an intrusion into her Snapchat account, prosecutors said.
According to the statement, the investigation revealed that Mr. Waithe’s internet browser history included searches for information on how to hack Snapchat accounts and visits to websites with titles like, “Can anyone trace my fake Instagram account back to me?”
Mr. Waithe also reached out to victims under the premise of “athlete research” or “body development study,” prosecutors said.
Identifying himself as “Katie Janovich” or “Kathryn Svoboda,” he emailed potential victims and described a phony study for athletes “and requested information relating to height, weight and diet habits,” according to the statement.
The emails, prosecutors said, also asked the women to send photos of themselves in a “uniform or bathing suit to show as much skin as possible” and suggested that the images would not be shared or saved.
The emails included attachments of sample nude and seminude images of “Katie” to demonstrate what types of pictures the victims should send, court documents said.
Investigators said they had identified more than 10 victims of the so-called body development study ruse and over 300 related nude and seminude photos in Mr. Waithe’s email accounts.
Mr. Waithe was fired from Northeastern University in February 2019 “as a result of a university investigation into his inappropriate conduct toward female student-athletes,” Renata Nyul, a spokeswoman for the university, said in a statement.
“Impacted students were provided with resources for counseling and holistic support for their well-being,” she said, adding that the university police worked with federal law enforcement in the case.
Mr. Waithe previously worked as a track-and-field coach at other academic institutions, including Penn State, Illinois Institute of Technology, University of Tennessee and Concordia University Chicago, according to the charging documents.
Calls to phone numbers associated with Mr. Waithe’s name were not immediately returned on Wednesday. It was not immediately clear whether he had a lawyer.
The cyberstalking charge provides for a sentence of up to five years in prison, three years of supervised release and a fine of $250,000, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
The wire fraud charge provides for a sentence of up to 20 years in prison, three years of supervised release and a fine of $250,000, the office said.