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Former Northeastern track coach charged with tricking student-athletes into sending nude photos, cyberstalking

Northeastern University.
Northeastern University.Lane Turner/Globe Staff

A former Northeastern University track coach was arrested Wednesday on federal charges that he used phony social media accounts to trick female student-athletes into sending him nude or semi-nude photos, and that he cyberstalked at least one athlete, prosecutors said.

Steve Waithe, 28, was arrested in Chicago, where he lives, by FBI Boston special agents Wednesday morning, according to Acting US Attorney Nathaniel R. Mendell’s office. An initial court appearance was slated for Wednesday afternoon in the Northern District of Illinois, prosecutors said. Waithe will appear in Boston at a later date.

It wasn’t immediately clear if Waithe had hired a lawyer. He’s charged with one count of wire fraud and one count of cyberstalking, records show.

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Waithe was fired in February 2019 after a university investigation into allegations of inappropriate conduct toward female student athletes, university spokeswoman Renata Nyul said Wednesday. The victims were provided with counseling and other resources, she said. The university also contacted federal law enforcement officials and cooperated with their investigation, according to Nyul.

Court documents indicate Waithe coached track and field at Northeastern from October 2018 to February 2019. During that time, Waithe often asked to use female athletes’ cellphones under the pretense of filming their performance at practice and competitions, prosecutors said. He was sometimes seen “scrolling through” the phones, they said.

Starting around February 2020, Waithe allegedly duped female Northeastern track and field athletes into sending him nude or semi-nude photos of themselves. Prosecutors said he contacted the athletes through social media accounts, told them he’d seen compromising photos of them online, and offered to help get the photos removed from the Internet.

Under that pretense, prosecutors said, he asked for more nude or semi-nude photos that he could use for purported “reverse image searches.”

Waithe also allegedly cyberstalked at least one female Northeastern athlete from June to October of last year using social media messages, an anonymized phone number, and intrusion into her Snapchat account.

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Prosecutors said the investigation revealed an Internet browsing history tied to Waithe that included searches for tips on hacking Snapchat accounts and visits to websites with titles such as “Can anyone trace my fake Instagram account back to me?”

He also targeted alleged victims under a purported “athlete research” or “body development” study, prosecutors said.

In that scheme, according to prosecutors, he used the personas “Katie Janovich” or “Kathryn Svoboda,” to e-mail potential victims and request, supposedly for a study, information on their height, weight, and diet habits. The e-mails also asked women to send photos of themselves in a “uniform or bathing suit to show as much skin as possible,” assuring the women their photos wouldn’t be shared or saved, the statement said.

Prosecutors said the e-mails often included attachments of sample nude and semi-nude images of a woman to demonstrate the types of pictures that victims should send. Court documents allege that investigators have identified more than 10 victims of the body-study scheme and over 300 related nude and semi-nude photos in Waithe’s e-mail accounts.

Waithe previously coached at several academic institutions, prosecutors said, including Penn State University, Illinois Institute of Technology, the University of Tennessee, and Concordia University Chicago.

Prosecutors are asking anyone who might be a victim in this case to visit justice.gov/usao-ma/victim-and-witness-assistance-program/us-v-steven-waithe.

Laura Krantz of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

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Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.