A former college track coach is facing federal charges after authorities said he cyberstalked at least one female student-athlete and used fake social media accounts to trick others into sending him nude and semi-nude photographs.
Steve Waithe, 28, of Chicago, Illinois, was taken into custody Wednesday morning on one count each of wire fraud and cyberstalking, the U.S. Attorney's Office in Massachusetts said in a statement.
Waithe was employed as a track and field coach at Northeastern University in Boston from October 2018 to February 2019, when he was fired because of "a university investigation into his inappropriate conduct toward female student athletes," Renata Nyul, the school's spokesperson, told NBC News.
During that time, prosecutors allege Waithe used bogus social media accounts to tell women he had found compromising photos of them online, then offered to "help" remove them.
"Under this pretense, it is alleged that Waithe requested additional nude or semi-nude photos that he could purportedly use for “reverse image searches,” the U.S. Attorney's Office said in the statement.
A key part of the scheme was Waithe convincing the victims to give him their phones so he could film them to work on their form, the FBI said. Shortly after filming the women with their phones, prosecutors said Waithe allegedly contacted several of them on fake Instagram accounts with nude photos of the athletes believed to have been stolen by Waithe from their phones.
He allegedly told the victims from the fake Instagram accounts that “he was working with a website started for people whose nude photos were 'leaked' with the hope of determining who had 'leaked' the images and having the images removed from the internet,” according to the complaint.
Investigators said they obtained Waithe’s Google search history, which showed dozens of searches and website visits in 2020 that the FBI believes were tied to Waithe’s scheme.
“In May 2020, for example, Waithe’s internet search and browsing history includes a search for 'can an Instagram be traced' and a visit to a webpage page entitled, 'Can anyone trace my fake Instagram account back to me?' the prosecutors wrote in the complaint.
In a separate scheme, Waithe was also accused of contacting prospective victims for a phony study and requesting information related to their height, weight and diet habits. Under the pseudonyms, "Katie Janovich" and "Kathruyn Svoboda," he allegedly requested photos of the victims in a bathing suit or in other revealing pieces of clothing.
Investigators said they've identified more than 10 victims and found over 300 nude and semi-nude images of the victims in Waithe's email accounts.
“Impacted students were provided with counseling and other resources. The university also contacted federal law enforcement officials and worked in full cooperation for the duration of the federal investigation,” Northeastern said in email.
According to the U.S. Attorney's Office, Waithe previously worked as a track and field coach at several other major universities, including Penn State University, Illinois Institute of Technology, the University of Tennessee and Concordia University Chicago.
Efforts to reach Waithe by phone Wednesday were unsuccessful. It was unclear if he had a lawyer.
Waithe is expected to make his first appearance in federal court in Chicago on Wednesday afternoon. He faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.
Investigators are still looking to identify other victims and asked potential victims to come forward on the FBI's website.