Sports

Track coach allegedly stole ‘compromising photos’ from athletes, ransomed them back anonymously

Steve Waithe while coaching track and field at Concordia College in Chicago.
Image: Concordia College Chicago

Steve Waithe, a former assistant track and field coach at Tennessee and Northeastern, was arrested Wednesday in Chicago on federal charges of cyberstalking and wire fraud, stemming from an alleged scheme that’s equal parts stupid and gross.

Waithe, who was a three-time All-American at Penn State, specializing in the triple jump, allegedly tried to trick female athletes at Northeastern into sending him nude photos. According to the criminal complaint against him, 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.”

The linchpin of the scheme was a series of fake Instagram accounts using handles like “privacyprotector,” which the perpetrator would use to send messages to athletes with pictures that had been “leaked” online, then offering to “scrub” those photos from the internet and asking for any other photos that the victims might not want online.

“The known victims have received more than 100 messages via Instagram … and dozens of image files depicting themselves and/or their friends or teammates,” the complaint reads.

How might Waithe have gotten the photos of the victims in the first place? Allegedly, “during his time at Northeastern, Waithe regularly requested the use of cellphones of student-athletes for the stated purpose of filming their form at practice and at meets. In these circumstances, female student-athletes provided Waithe with access to their phones and permission to record videos of them. While at times Waithe did record the performance of student-athletes, Waithe also was observed ‘scrolling through’ the phone(s) of one or more student-athletes while holding the phone(s) as if he were recording video.”

Waithe was quietly let go at Northeastern in February 2019, so quietly that even the student newspaper’s archives do not have anything about his departure. But according to the complaint, “starting during his first semester at Northeastern, Waithe engaged in conduct that gave rise to multiple reports of sexual harassment and led to a Title IX investigation conducted by the university. Waithe’s employment at Northeastern ended … after the conclusion of the Title IX investigation.”

The alleged cyberstalking and wire fraud began in February 2020, from an Instagram account “anon.4887,” which according to the government was “created and/or controlled by Waithe. For example, on February 14, 2020, Instagram sent a notification email regarding the anon.4887 Instagram account to one of Waithe’s Google email addresses.”

That’s where the gross begins to blend with the stupid, which continues with this allegation: “Approximately fifteen minutes prior to the first contact from the privacyprotector Instagram account to Victim 2, Instagram sent an email to one of Waithe’s Google email addresses which read, ‘Welcome to Instagram, privacyprotector.’”

It continues: “Records obtained from Google relating to the internet search history associated with another one of Waithe’s Google accounts indicate that the account was used to search for Victim 2’s name multiple times in 2020, including three times less than four minutes before Victim 2 received her first message from the privacyprotector Instagram account.”

Further to the “my ‘NOT INVOLVED IN CYBERSTALKING’ T-shirt is raising a lot of questions already answered by the shirt” behavior, the complaint alleges: “Later in the conversation [with Victim 4], Waithe wrote, ‘I have a question. When I reached out to one of the women [Victim 6] and showed her and asked her if it could be someone who leaked them she said some[one] named Steve. Do you know a Steve that it could be that we can investigate?’”

Which Steve could be investigated? Perhaps the one, according to the complaint, whose “internet search and browsing history includes a search for ‘can an Instagram be traced’ and a visit to a webpage entitled, ‘Can anyone trace my fake Instagram account back to me?’”

The cyberstalking element of the case involves Waithe allegedly phishing his way to get a Snapchat passcode for Victim 6’s account, accessing the account and private photos contained therein, and then texting the pictures to Victim 6’s boyfriend with a warning that her Snapchat had been hacked and the hacker “will leak it soon.”

Naturally, the complaint continues, “Based on records obtained during this investigation, Waithe has repeatedly searched for information on the internet about how to hack or otherwise obtain remote access to Snapchat accounts, including searches for ‘how to hack someone’s Snapchat,’ ‘how to hack a Snapchat,’ and ‘hacked Snapchat nudes.’ On October 2, 2020 — that is, the day before the unauthorized access of Victim 6’s Snapchat account described above — Waithe’s internet search history reveals a search for ‘how to hack a Snapchat with a username and phone number.’ Waithe’s internet browsing history for the same day reveals visits to pages entitled, ‘How to Hack Someones Snapchat the Easy Way’ and ‘How to Hack Someones Snapchat Account Password Online.’”

There has to be a better way to find pictures of naked people online than committing federal crimes, doesn’t there? Maybe that’s worth searching for instead of going through all this trouble, being a total creep, and getting arrested by the FBI.

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