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By Nate Raymond
BOSTON (Reuters) - A former Northeastern University track-and-field coach pleaded guilty on Tuesday to charges involving a scheme to steal nude photos from the cellphones of female athletes and dupe young women at the school and elsewhere into sending him such images.
Steve Waithe, 30, pleaded guilty in Boston federal court to charges of wire fraud, cyberstalking and computer fraud related to a vast effort to trick dozens of young women across the country into sending him compromising photos.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Adam Deitch said in court that Waithe's scheme victimized at least 50 women. Deitch said he plans to seek more than three years and 10 months in prison for Waithe.
Waithe worked at Northeastern from October 2018 to February 2019, when the university fired him, and had previously coached at Penn State University, Illinois Institute of Technology, University of Tennessee and Concordia University Chicago.
Prosecutors said that while at Northeastern, Waithe asked female athletes if he could use their cellphones to take video of them during practices and meets and would then covertly look for photos of the women that he sent to himself.
After leaving Northeastern, Waithe contacted six athletes using Instagram accounts with names like "privacyprotector" saying he found compromising photos of them online and wanted to "help" remove them from the internet, prosecutors said.
Prosecutors said Waithe sent the women nude or semi-nude photos he had stolen and requested they send additional ones so he could conduct "reverse image searches."
None provided pictures, Deitch said. But, with the help of a hacker, Waithe stole nude pictures of one of the Northeastern athletes stored on her Snapchat account and cyberstalked her, Deitch said.
Under aliases, Waithe also emailed women in various U.S. states for a phony "body development" study and requested photos of them in a "uniform or bathing suit to show as much skin as possible," prosecutors said.
While some ignored his emails, at least 17 women responded, sending him 350 nude or semi-nude photos, according to the indictment.U.S. District Judge Patti Saris is due to sentence Waithe on March 6, with many of the victims planning to attend.
Defense lawyer Jane Peachy estimated her client deserves as little as two years and three months under federal sentencing guidelines. Waithe, who was first charged in 2021, would receive credit for the 14 months he has already spent in custody.
(Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston, Editing by Will Dunham and Alexia Garamfalvi)