Michigan Man Who Orchestrated International Computer Fraud Scheme and Online Drug Distribution Scheme Pleads Guilty
BOSTON – A former college track and field coach pleaded guilty today in federal court in Boston in connection with a scheme to trick women across the country into sending him nude or semi-nude photos using more than a dozen sham social media and email accounts. The defendant cyberstalked one female student-athlete and orchestrated a scheme to gain unauthorized access to a victim’s Snapchat account.
Steve Waithe, 30, of Chicago, Ill., pleaded guilty 12 counts of wire fraud; one count of cyberstalking; one count of conspiracy to commit computer fraud; and one count of computer fraud, aiding and abetting. U.S District Court Judge Patti B. Saris scheduled sentencing for March 6, 2024. Waithe was arrested and charged by criminal complaint in April 2021 and subsequently indicted by a federal grand jury in December 2021.
“Mr. Waithe’s conduct is despicable. For almost a year, he manipulated, exploited and in one case stalked young women across the county hiding behind a web of anonymized social media accounts and fabricated personas he engineered. Mr. Waithe maliciously invaded the lives of dozens of innocent victims and inflicted real trauma. He now knows no one can hide from justice – even anonymously behind a keyboard. Protecting our communities is one of the highest priorities for this office and we will use every tool at our disposable to ensure predators like Mr. Waithe face the full consequences of their actions,” said Acting United States Attorney Joshua S. Levy.
“Today, this former coach finally admitted to using his position of trust to betray his students when he extorted them for his own sexual gratification. He even went as far as cyberstalking one of them. Make no mistake, predators come in many different forms, and Steve Waithe is no exception,” said Jodi Cohen, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Boston Division. “Cyberstalking is a serious crime that can inflict lasting harm, and thankfully, the victims in this case did not let fear silence them. Many don’t report these types of crimes because they don’t think anything will be done to the perpetrator. We hope this case demonstrates otherwise.”
Waithe previously worked as a track and field coach at several academic institutions, including Northeastern University, Penn State University, Illinois Institute of Technology, University of Tennessee and Concordia University Chicago.
While a track coach at Northeastern, Waithe requested the cell phones of female student-athletes under the pretense of filming them at practice and at meets and covertly sent himself explicit photos of the victims that had previously been saved on their phones.
Starting at least as early as February 2020, Waithe began perpetrating an evolving scheme to dupe women into sending him nude or semi-nude photos of themselves. Specifically, Waithe used anonymized social media accounts with usernames like “anon.4887” and variations of the phrase “Privacy Protector” to contact prospective victims, claiming that he had found compromising photos of them online and offering to “help” get the photos removed from the internet. Waithe also requested additional nude or semi-nude photos from victims that he could purportedly use for “reverse image searches.”
Further, Waithe fabricated at least two female personas, “Katie Janovich” and “Kathryn Svoboda,” in an effort to obtain nude and/or semi-nude photos of women. Under the purported premise of an “athlete research” or “body development” study, Waithe emailed prospective victims pretending to be “Katie” or “Kathryn” with email accounts in their names. The emails described a phony study for athletes and requested information relating to height, weight, body fat and diet habits. The emails also included a request for the victims to send photos of themselves in order to “track their progress” and recommended that the photos show the women in a “uniform or bathing suit to show as much skin as possible.” The emails often included attachments of sample nude and semi-nude images to illustrate the types of photos that victims should send.
Investigators identified over a dozen sham social media accounts used by Waithe and hundreds of photos sent dozens of victims who thought they were emailing someone conducting a legitimate research study.
Waithe also cyberstalked one victim, from at least June 2020 to October 2020, through text messages and direct messages sent via social media, as well as by hacking into her Snapchat account. He texted and sent nude photos of the victim to the victim’s boyfriend, stating, “I wanted to make you aware that someone hacked your girlfriend’s snapchat account and will leak it soon. I need your help to assure this does not happen.” Over the course of those five months, Waithe sent harassing and intimidating messages to the victim and her boyfriend. The messages included explicit photos that Waithe had stolen from the victim’s phone when she was on the Track and Field team at Northeastern.
In October 2020, Waithe conspired with another individual to hack into Snapchat accounts, ultimately gaining access to at least one account and its private “My Eyes Only” folder that contained nude and/or semi-nude photos. In addition, Waithe provided his co-conspirator with the usernames and phone numbers for the Snapchat accounts of at least 15 women. Waithe and his co-conspirator then used this information to craft and send text messages purporting to be from the “Snapchat Support Team” and requesting security information, through which they gained access to at least one account.
The investigation revealed that Waithe’s internet browsing history included visits to webpages with titles like, “Can anyone trace my fake Instagram account back to me?” and “How to Hack Someones Snapchat the Easy Way.” Waithe’s search history also included searches for, among other things, “how to hack snapchat with a username and phone number.”
Members of the public who have questions, concerns or information regarding this case should call 617-748-3274. Case information, including links to charging documents and victim resources, can be found here: https://www.justice.gov/usao-ma/victim-and-witness-assistance-program/us-v-steven-waithe
The charge of wire fraud provides for a sentence of up to 20 years in prison for each count, three years of supervised release and a fine of $250,000. The charge of cyberstalking provides for a sentence of up to five years in prison, three years of supervised release and a fine of $250,000. The charges of conspiracy to commit computer fraud and computer fraud, aiding and abetting, each provide for a sentence of up to five years in prison, three years of supervised release and a fine of $250,000. Sentences are imposed by a federal district court judge based upon the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and statutes which govern the determination of a sentence in a criminal case.
Acting U.S. Attorney Levy and FBI SAC Cohen made the announcement today. The Northeastern University Police Department provided substantial assistance with the investigation; the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office and the Chicago Police Department also provided valuable assistance. Assistant U.S. Attorney Adam W. Deitch of the Criminal Division is prosecuting the case.