Feds: Former Northeastern track coach sentenced for cyber sex crimes involving more than 100 women

BOSTON — A former Northeastern University track-and-field coach was sentenced Wednesday in Boston federal court in connection with cyber sex schemes involving more than 100 women from across the country.

Steve Waithe, 31, formerly of Chicago and Sommerville, Mass., was sentenced to five years in prison and three years of supervised release. In November Waithe pleaded guilty to 12 counts of wire fraud, cyberstalking, and computer fraud related to a vast effort to trick dozens of young women across the country, using more than a dozen sham social media and email accounts, into sending him compromising photos, Massachusetts U.S. Attorney’s Office said.

“This defendant’s conduct is deplorable. He exploited his trusted role as a coach to college athletes to engage in a sextortion campaign that has left a trail of emotional devastation in its wake. We stand by the courageous victims who came forward and help this Office hold Mr. Waithe accountable. The array of on-line threats is striking, and this Office will be vigilant in investigating and prosecuting those who sexually exploit victims,” said Acting United States Attorney Joshua S. Levy.

Waithe was a track and field coach at Northeastern University from October 2018 to February 2019, when he was fired. During his time at the school, Waithe frequently requested to use female athletes’ cellphones under the pretense that he would be filming their form during practice and meets and would then covertly look for explicit photos of the women that he sent to himself, according to prosecutors.

He also previously worked as a track and field coach at several other academic institutions, including Penn State University, Illinois Institute of Technology, University of Tennessee, and Concordia University Chicago.

Prosecutors said that beginning in February 2020, after he no longer worked at NEU, Waithe began perpetrating an evolving series of schemes to deceive women into sending him nude or semi-nude photos of themselves.

In total, Waithe victimized at least 56 women and attempted to victimize 72 more, prosecutors said.

Waithe anonymously messaged Northeastern track and field athletes through fake Instagram accounts, like “Privacy Protector” and “Anon,” saying he found nude photos of them online. He then told the woman if they sent him more photos, he could do “reverse image” searches and scrub any trace from the internet, according to investigators.

Waithe’s scheming did not stop there. Using various Google accounts with fake names such as “Katie Janovich” and “Kathryn Svoboda,” he emailed dozens of women throughout the country to participate in a completely made-up “body development” study. The emails asked the women to provide pictures in a “uniform or bathing suit to show as much skin as possible.” While many went unanswered, Waithe received more than 350 revealing photos from dozens of victims, according to investigators.

Waithe also cyberstalked one Northeastern athlete, from at least June 2020 to October 2020, hacking into her Snapchat account. With that access, Waithe obtained more nude photos of the woman, which he sent to her boyfriend through anonymous Instagram messages stating, “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,” federal prosecutors said.

Over the course of five months, Waithe sent harassing and intimidating messages to the victim and her boyfriend that included explicit photos that Waithe had stolen from the victim’s phone when she was on the track and field team at Northeastern, according to prosecutors.

In October 2020, Waithe conspired with another individual to hack into Snapchat accounts, ultimately gaining access to at least one account and its private “My Eyes Only” folder that contained nude and/or semi-nude photos. Additionally, prosecutors said, Waithe provided his co-conspirator with the usernames and phone numbers for the Snapchat accounts of at least 15 women. They then used this information to craft and send text messages purporting to be from the “Snapchat Support Team” and requesting security information, through which they gained access to at least one account.

According to prosecutors, Waithe’s internet browsing history included visits to webpages with titles like, “Can anyone trace my fake Instagram account back to me?” and “How to Hack Someones Snapchat the Easy Way.” Waithe’s search history also included searches for, among other things, “how to hack snapchat with a username and phone number.”

He also distributed stolen images on websites where stolen and so-called “leaked” photos are posted, shared, and traded. In one post, Waithe wrote, “Does anyone want to trade nudes? I’m talking girls you actually know. Could be exes or whatever. I have quite a few and [am] down to trade over snap[chat] or something.”

In total, prosecutors said, Waithe posted or offered to trade images of victims at least 55 times.

Waithe was arrested and charged by criminal complaint in April 2021 but on his release conditions, he accessed his Instragram more than 100 times, soliciting new prospective victims and requesting they send him new photos, according to prosecutors.

“His reprehensible actions inflicted significant anguish on these victims who were living in fear of being so personally exposed,” said Jodi Cohen, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Boston Division. “Today’s sentence shows that cyberstalking and sextortion is not some sick game, they’re serious crimes, and the FBI will continue to unmask and hold accountable anyone who uses today’s technology in such a vile way.”

Upon release after his five-year sentence, Waithe will be prohibited from taking any jobs in which he could serve as a coach, teacher, mentor, or any similar role involving women or girls and his internet usage will be strictly monitored by probation.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates as more information becomes available.

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