A former track and field coach at Northeastern University was charged today with wire fraud and cyberstalking for allegedly posing as a woman himself as part of a ploy to get athletes to send him nude photos and for allegedly cyberstalking one Northeastern athlete - to the point of figuring out how to break into her Snapchat account.
Stephen Waithe, who lived in Somerville during his time at Northeastern, was arrested in Chicago, but will be returned here to face charges, the US Attorney's office in Boston reports.
An affidavit by an FBI agent on the case describes a man who was not quite as clever as he allegedly thought - although he apparently managed to obtain nude photos of several athletes by borrowing and then scrolling through their phones during Northeastern track meets, he failed completely to use them as leverage to get more photos via online conversations because none of the victims responded to his demands for additional photos.
At one point, in fact, he incriminated himself - trying to convince one athlete to send him nude photos as part of his alleged investigation, as a privacy consultant, into a guy named Steve Waithe.
According to federal officials, Waithe started his alleged perving while a coach at Northeastern in 2018 - he would borrow women athletes' phones "under the pretense of filming their form at practice and at meets," then scroll through them, looking for salacious photos. The athletes noticed, filed multiple sexual-harassment complaints, the university conducted a formal Title IX investigation and the school fired him in February, 2019.
But, in February, 2020, the affidavit states, he began contacting Northeastern women athletes via their Instagram accounts, posing either as a woman herself with privacy concerns or as an investigator out to help women whose nude photos had supposedly shown up on "the dark Web."
Typically, he wrote the women and
[S]tated that he had found compromising photos of the victims online, and offered to "help" them get the photos removed from the internet. WAITHE also sent examples of the compromising photos to the victims.
From February 2020 to the present, the known victims have received more than 100 messages via Instagram like those described herein and dozens of image files depicting themselves and/or their friends or teammates. In perpetrating the scheme, WAITHE repeatedly employed the same basic pattern of conduct: disclosure of compromising photos of the victim, a claim that the photos had been discovered online, and a request for additional photos.
In his alleged mania, Waithe posed either as a woman himself or as an account called "privacyprotector," the affidavit continues:
In his initial messages from the anon.4887 Instagram account to Victim 1, WAITHE introduced himself as "Katie Janovich" and stated that he had located compromising photos of Victim 1 online. WAITHE then sent several nude or semi-nude photos of Victim 1, writing, "Sorry[,] I created this [anon.4887 Instagram] profile to help out don't wanna be part of the drama". Still presenting himself as "Katie Janovich", WAITHE indicated that he had "screenshotted" the photos, in a purported effort to "help." In addition to photos of Victim 1, WAITHE also sent nude or semi-nude photos depicting other young women, including other female members of the Northeastern Track and Field team.
Waithe then asked the woman to prove she was the person whose photos were allegedly online by sending him more nude photos. The agent writes it didn't work, so Waithe tried with another Northeastern student, posing as a privacy consultant who'd found her photos on the "dark Web" and who only wanted to help her scrub the photos:
Later in the conversation, and under the pretense of assisting with the removal of photos of Victim 2 from the internet, WAITHE asked Victim 2 if she had any "pictures of you nude currently that I can use as reference" that could be used to "help my reverse image search". WAITHE attempted to persuade Victim 2 to send additional nude photos by telling her that "people" have ways to evade the detection of a "reverse image search" and explained that "more detailed pictures" were "the only way I can stop that from happening". WAITHE wrote to Victim 2 that he had "done this plenty of times even for another Northeastern athlete".
The affidavit continues that four more athletes also declined to send him more photos. One did engage him in some online conversation in which she said, yes, she did not want nude photos of her online, but after she stopped corresponding with "privacyprotector," he wrote back:
In this portion of the conversation, WAITHE wrote, "Hello [Victim 4]! I don't if you remember me from a couple of weeks ago. I did some digging. Can you confirm something for me. ... Is the Steve you were talking about Steve Waithe?" When Victim 5 responded in the affirmative, the sender wrote, "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".
According to the affidavit, investigators confirmed with at least two of the athletes that her own phone was the source of the photos Waithe had, back when he was still a coach at Northeastern:
According to Victim 6, the nude or semi-nude photos sent during this conversation had been stored on her cellphone in Fall 2018, when WAITHE was her coach. She reported that WAITHE had regular access to her cellphone and the cellphones of other student-athletes, and with their permission he would use their phones to film their form at practice. Victim 6 reported that, on several occasions in Fall 2018, she provided WAITHE with her unlocked cellphone and that WAITHE had possession of the phone for approximately 20 minutes at a time. Victim 6 reported that, on at least one occasion, she observed WAITHE using a "scrolling" motion with her phone, rather than simply using the phone to film her at practice.
The affidavit continues that this victim was the one whose Snapchat account was broken into - and that her boyfriend got a message on Instagram from Waithe threatening to release the contents unless he got more photos.
Even as he was doing all this, the affidavit states, Waithe was searching Google on ways to hack Snapchat. Also:
Records relating to WAITHE's Google accounts reveal at least dozens of searches and website visits in 2020 appearing to relate to the wire fraud 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?"
If convicted, Waithe faces up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.
The FBI is continuing to investigate the case, and is asking women at Northeastern and Penn State University, Illinois Institute of Technology, University of Tennessee and Concordia University Chicago, where he also coached track and field, to contact agents if they feel they might have been one of his attempted victims.