On Wednesday, federal authorities arrested Waithe, 28, and charged him with cyberstalking and wire fraud in connection with the scheme to deceive students into sending him nude and seminude pictures of themselves. Waithe was fired as a coach in February 2019 after a school investigation.
“Waithe contacted the alleged victims through social media accounts, stated that he had found compromising photos of them online and offered to ‘help’ get the photos removed from the internet,” the U.S. attorney’s office for the District of Massachusetts said in a news release. “Under this pretense, it is alleged that Waithe requested additional nude or seminude photos that he could purportedly use for ‘reverse image searches.’”
Waithe, a native of Chicago, worked as a track and field coach at Penn State University, the Illinois Institute of Technology, the University of Tennessee and Concordia University Chicago before he was hired to coach the Northeastern University women’s team in October 2018.
During his time at Northeastern, a criminal complaint states, students saw him scrolling through the phone of at least one student athlete while pretending to record her form. Waithe also allegedly held on to one of the athlete’s phone for several hours during a track competition at Harvard University in January 2019.
The following month, his contract was terminated “as a result of a university investigation into his inappropriate conduct toward female student athletes,” Renata Nyul, a Northeastern spokeswoman told The Washington Post in an email. The university says it began an investigation after multiple students reported that Waithe sexually harassed them.
But Waithe’s alleged inappropriate behavior did not stop there.
Starting in February 2020, prosecutors said, Waithe created at least three fake Instagram accounts to contact six current and former members of the Northeastern track team. Waithe allegedly sent more than 100 messages including dozens of compromising pictures of the women, which he’d gotten earlier by scrolling through their phones.
Waithe allegedly told the women he had found their explicit photos online and that if they wanted “help” scrubbing them off the Internet, they would need to send more nude or seminude pictures of themselves so he could do a “reverse image search.”
On February 13, 2020, the complaint states, Waithe reached out to one current or former team member via Instagram and identified himself as “Katie Janovich.” Waithe then sent the woman several explicit pictures and offered to remove them from the web, the complaint states. The woman accepted the offer, but Waithe allegedly said, “Not until you send me pictures of you.”
“I’ll send you all the personal ones if you send me you; that’s the only way,” Waithe allegedly said. Although Waithe told the woman he had “hundreds” of additional photos, the complaint states, the woman eventually did not send him a single picture.
On June 12, 2020, Waithe allegedly contacted another woman from a different Instagram account recounting a similar story. He had found her pictures on the “dark web,” the complaint states, adding that it was his “job” to do “image scrubbing” on the internet.
Waithe then allegedly asked the woman 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,” a task he had done “plenty of times even for another Northeastern athlete.” That woman also refused to send him any pictures, the complaint states.
Waithe is also accused of accessing one woman’s Snapchat account to steal intimate photos by pretending to be “Snapchat’s Support Team.” Then, the complaint states, Waithe messaged the woman’s boyfriend via Instagram and told him “someone” had access to her intimate photos. “I need your help to assure this does not happen,” Waithe allegedly wrote. He later sent him two of the woman’s nude photos, the complaint states.
“The investigation revealed that internet search and browsing history tied to Waithe allegedly included searches for information on how to hack Snapchat accounts and visits to webpages with titles like, ‘Can anyone trace my fake Instagram account back to me?’” prosecutors said in the news release.
Investigators also found evidence of a separate scheme Waithe allegedly performed using his email account. According to the complaint, Waithe emailed an unknown number of women under the aliases of “Katie Janovich” and “Kathryn Svoboda” asking them to send pictures of themselves in a “uniform or bathing suit to show as much skin as possible” for a “body development” and “athlete research” he was conducting.
“My name is Katie, Steve told me to reach out to you in hopes for you to help us with our research!” Waithe allegedly wrote.
In these emails, the complaint states, Waithe assured the women none of the photos would be shared or saved. The emails, in which Waithe allegedly promised the women gift cards if they participated in the study, included nude and seminude pictures of “Katie” for reference, the complaint states.
Investigators said they have identified at least 10 women who fell pray to the study and more than 300 nude and seminude pictures of women in Waithe’s email account.
Waithe was arrested Wednesday in Chicago and was scheduled to make an initial appearance in federal court that afternoon. He is expected to appear in Boston at a later date.
If found guilty of both charges, he could face up to 25 years in prison and a fine of $500,000, followed by six years of supervised release.
Court records did not list an attorney representing Waithe as of early Thursday.