A former collegiate track and field coach, Steve Waithe, was arrested in Chicago on Wednesday and charged with duping female track and field athletes at Northeastern University into sending him nude or partially nude photos under false pretenses, according to prosecutors.
According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Waithe, 28, also allegedly cyberstalked at least one female athlete. He's been charged with one count of cyberstalking and one count of wire fraud.
Waithe has previously coached at Penn State, Illinois Institute of Technology, University of Tennessee and Concordia University Chicago per the charging documents. He worked at Northeastern from October 2018 to February 2019.
According to the criminal complaint, Waithe frequently held onto female athletes' phones while coaching at Northeastern and had been observed scrolling through the phones.
Track and field runners. (Photo: Kirby Lee, USA TODAY Sports)
"(Waithe) used his position to steal compromising photos of women on the team from their cellphones and attempted to extort, stalk, and otherwise harass the victims, largely through dummy social media accounts," the complaint said.
By the end of his first semester coaching at Northeastern, the university began a Title IX investigation after multiple reports of sexual harassment, the complaint stated. His employment ended after the conclusion of the investigation.
Beginning in February 2020, the accusers began receiving messages depicting themselves or their teammates. Waithe repeatedly used the same tactics, the complaint said: "disclosure of compromising photos of the victim, a claim that the photos had been discovered online, and a request for additional photos."
Using pseudonyms such as “Privacy Protector,” “Katie Janovich,” and “anon.4887,” Waithe claimed to be in position to scrub the photos from the web. Here's an example of a message Waithe would send, as used in the complaint:
"I can go through all of the pictures on the website and pick out which ones look like you and your friends or similar and contact the host and have him take it down which takes about a week or two because he claims he’s always busy. Or I can reverse search every image that you believe could have been hacked or NSFW ("not safe for work") and scrub them off the site that way. That takes about 4 hours."
Once again using the "Janovich" identity and posing as “Kathryn Svoboda,” Waithe also emailed prospective victims under the guise of "athlete research" or "body development" that asked athletes 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.
Waithe was due in federal court in the Northern District of Illinois later Wednesday and will appear in Boston at a later date. The cyberstalking charge carries a maximum sentence of five years and the wire fraud could carry up to 20 years.
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