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A former Northeastern University track and field coach is under federal investigation for cyberstalking student-athletes and extorting them for nude photographs, according to the Department of Justice.
Steve Waithe, 28, was charged with one count of cyberstalking and one count of wire fraud stemming from his online conduct with former student-athletes that he coached at Northeastern. Waithe also previously coached track and field at Penn State University, the University of Tennessee, Concordia University Chicago, and the Illinois Institute of Technology.
According to court filings, Waithe received several reports and sexual harassment claims in his first semester working at Northeastern, leading to a Title IX investigation from the university. He left the university in February 2019, just months after he began coaching at the school.
During practices, prosecutors allege that Waithe asked his athletes for their cell phones as they ran so he could record them. Athletes who were anonymously cited in filings said that Waithe was seen sometimes “scrolling through” the phones of athletes for lengthy periods of time while pretending to record their workouts.
Renata Nyul, the Vice President of Communications at Northeastern University, told Insider in a statement that the university provided Waithe’s victims with counseling and that the university could not further comment on an active criminal trial.
“Mr. Waithe was employed at Northeastern from October 2018 and terminated in February 2019 as a result of a university investigation into his inappropriate conduct toward female student athletes,” Nyul said. “Impacted students were provided with resources for counseling and holistic support for their wellbeing. The Northeastern University Police Department also alerted federal law enforcement officials and worked in full cooperation for the duration of the federal investigation. We appreciate the diligence of the FBI and the US Attorney’s office and the actions that resulted today.”
Using IP addresses and social media account records obtained in the investigation, investigators revealed that Waithe used at least three separate Google accounts and Instagram accounts to message his former athletes.
A year after leaving Northeastern, prosecutors allege that Waithe began a scheme to trick several of his former track and field athletes into sending naked or semi-nude photos of themselves. Using one Instagram account under the name “Katie Janovich,” prosecutors allege that Waithe sent several naked photos of one of his former track athletes and said that he found the images online and wanted to help scrub them from the internet. When the athlete agreed, Waithe said that “I’ll send you all the personal ones if you send me you[;] that’s the only way[.] I also saw another girl that you might know too. But only if you send yours.”
According to investigators, the victim did not send him any additional photos.
Using a second account with the username “privacyprotector,” prosecutors say that he messaged more of his former athletes with their naked photos and told them that he discovered them on “leakedbb.com,” a website where leaked nude photographs are stored. He told the victim that it was his job to scrub images from the web, but again, would need additional revealing photographs to reverse image search the photographs.
In another situation, prosecutors allege that Waithe told a victim that he had more photographs of their teammates.
“There’s about 5 of your teammates on there as well a lot of them fully nude,” prosecutors allege Waithe sent to a victim. “I can show you if you don’t believe me.”
According to court filings, some of the athletes began to catch onto Waithe’s actions. While using the Instagram account “privacyprotected,” Waithe admitted in a message that one of the athletes he messaged said that the person who leaked the photos could be someone named “Steve.” After confirming from other members of the team that he, Steve Waithe, was the person suspected, he said that “We are looking into him now. From what we are seeing it does not look like the IP address is coming from him but I want to be sure.”
Prosecutors allege that Waithe also attempted to hack into the Snapchat account of a former track athlete to obtain naked images.
More than a year after Waithe left Northeastern University, one victim said they received messages from four unknown phone numbers pretending to be from the “Snapchat Support Team” asking for a six-digit passcode. The victim provided the code and a four-digit PIN to the number and investigators allege they received a message of an unauthorized login to her Snapchat account later the same day.
The victim’s boyfriend then received a message from “pvcyprotect” on Instagram with two nude images of the victim that said “I wanted to make you aware that someone hacked your girlfriend’s snapchat account and will leak it soon. I need your help to assure this does not happen.”
The victim told investigators that the nude images were stored in her private “My Eyes Only Album” on her Snapchat that required a PIN or numerical code for access. Investigators also allege that Waithe repeatedly searched “how to hack someone’s Snapchat” just one day before prosecutors allege he hacked into the account and stole the victim’s nude photos.
Lastly, prosecutors allege that Waithe led a separate scheme to obtain more naked photographs by pretending to lead a fake study of athletes. Investigators said they identified more than ten victims from the scheme and found at least 300 naked or semi-nude images of victims in his various Google accounts.
If found guilty, the cyberstalking charge can lead to a maximum sentence of five years in prison, three years of supervised release, and a $250,000 fine. The wire fraud charge provides for an additional sentence of 20 additional years in prison, three years of supervised release, and another $250,000 fine.
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