Ex-college track coach gets 5-year sentence in nude photo case

Ex-college track coach gets 5-year sentence in nude photo case

BOSTON — A former college track and field coach was sentenced Wednesday to five years behind bars for setting up sham social media and email accounts in an attempt to trick women, including some he coached, into sending him nude or seminude photos of themselves.

Steve Waithe, who coached at Northeastern University in Boston, Penn State University, Illinois Institute of Technology, the University of Tennessee and Concordia University Chicago, pleaded guilty last year to 12 counts of wire fraud, one count of conspiracy to commit computer fraud and one count of computer fraud, prosecutors said.

Waithe, 31, also pleaded guilty to cyberstalking one victim through text messages and direct messages sent via social media, as well as by hacking into her Snapchat account, prosecutors said.

“These weren’t just victims that lost some money. These were people who lost their privacy, their sense of safety and destruction of trust,” Judge Patti Saris said. “Many of them cared for you, Mr. Waithe, and you broke their hearts. It was very much a breach of trust.”

Prosecutors said Waithe “left behind a devastating path riddled literally with dozens of victims” and have called for him to be jailed for 84 months, including the 17 months he has already served since his arrest, along with 36 months of supervised release. They accused him getting photos from more than 50 victims and trying to get them from another 72.

“To many of the victims in this case, Steve Waithe presented himself as a relatable coach and mentor. To other victims, he was a work colleague or a random acquaintance. To still others, he was considered a childhood friend,” prosecutors wrote. “However, by the time of his arrest in April 2021, Steve Waithe was to all of these women only one thing: a predator set on exploiting his position and relationships for his own pleasure.”

A half-dozen of his victims spoke at the sentencing, some using their first names and many appearing close to tears.

Many talked of how Waithe gained their confidence with praise and manipulated them into getting access to their phones or requesting them to send him inappropriate photos under the guise of research. The entire experience left many anxious and fearful that these images would still surface on the internet and possibly disrupt or derail their personal and professional lives.

They demanded the court give Waithe as stiff of a sentence as possible.

“He was willing to violate university rules. He was willing to violate conditions of release,” one victim said, noting his behavior continued after his initial arrest. “I don’t believe even after he gets out he will stop. I’m honestly begging that you give him as much time as possible.”

Turning to the victims, a bearded and composed Weithe apologized and called on the court to give him a fair sentence. His father and siblings were in court watching the proceedings. He also talked of his mental health challenges, including anxiety and depression.

“I know my words will not do justice to reversing the damage I caused,” he said. “Hearing your statements today has impacted me further than any incarceration could. … There is no way to put into words just how impactful my actions were on your lives and will continue to be on your lives. I understand the life I had and the life I threw away and the severity of my actions.”

Waithe’s attorney, Jane Peachy, asked for a sentence of 27 to 33 months followed by three years of probation, saying the son of Trinidadian parents had accepted full responsibility for his actions. He was an All-American track athlete at Penn State.

She expressed opposition to the final sentence and pushed back on several conditions upon his release, including not coaching or mentoring women or girls nor receiving or soliciting inappropriate photos of girls or women.

“Nothing about our sentencing recommendation is meant to minimize the crimes committed by Mr. Waithe,” Peachy said. “It is not a free pass. It is not condoning his behavior in any way. … It is the sentence the law calls for.”

While a track coach at Northeastern, Waithe requested the cellphones of women student-athletes under the pretense of filming them at practice and meets, but he instead covertly sent himself explicit photos of the women that had previously been saved on their phones, according to prosecutors.

Prosecutors said that starting as early as February 2020, Waithe used the sham social media accounts to contact women, saying he had found compromising photos of them online. He would then offer to help the women get the photos removed, asking them to send additional nude or seminude photos that he could purportedly use for “reverse image searches,” prosecutors said.

Waithe further invented at least two female personas — “Katie Janovich” and “Kathryn Svoboda” — to obtain nude and seminude photos of women under the purported premise of an “athlete research” or “body development” study, investigators said.

He also joined sites that allowed him to connect with others to distribute the stolen images and trade sets of images with other users.

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