March 26, 2022
A Bucks County mom has been convicted on charges that she used secret phone numbers to harass three girls on her daughter's cheerleading squad.
Raffaela Spone, 51, of Chalfont, was found guilty Friday by a Bucks County jury on three counts of misdemeanor cyber harassment that occurred between July and August 2020. Spone could face up to a year in prison and a $2,500 fine, according to the Bucks County Courier Times.
Spone was arrested and charged last March after she was accused of doctoring videos and images, commonly known as deepfakes, to harass three underage girls on her daughter's Victory Vipers traveling cheerleading team.
The woman allegedly created deepfakes that put the teenagers in compromising positions that never occurred. Prosecutors said at the time that it was part of an effort to get the three girls in trouble.
The harassment first came to the attention of police when the mother of one of the girls reported that her daughter received texts and calls from a blocked phone number.
Some of the texts included photos that had been taken from the girl's social media accounts and doctored to make her appear nude in a public place, or as if she had been drinking alcohol and vaping. Other messages included screenshots of one of the girls saying she was depressed.
In an alleged deepfake video — altered through software to make one person appear as another — the same girl was depicted to be vaping. That video was sent to the coaches of the Doylestown-based cheerleading squad in an attempt to get the girl kicked off the team.
In one of the calls the girl received, she was told, "You should kill yourself."
Two other parents came forward to police in December 2020 to report that their daughters were targeted with similar calls and texts, including salacious images that placed them in situations that never occurred. Some images included cruel captions.
A search of Spone's phone by police found the images that were sent in the messages stored on her mobile device.
Prosecutors said that Spone used several anonymous phone numbers to contact the girls' mothers and the cheerleading team coaches. Spone hid her phone numbers using an app called Pinger, prosecutors said.
Investigators were able to trace the cell phone activity to Spone's Chalfont home and the disguised phone numbers to her IP address.
Spone was unhappy about what was being shared on social media by the three girls and identified herself as a concerned parent, police said.
However, investigators said last May following a preliminary hearing that there wasn't clear evidence to show Spone created deepfake videos and photos in order to ruin the three girls' reputations.
Magisterial District Judge Regina Armitage allowed the trial to move forward in Bucks County Common Pleas Court. Spone remained accused of making inappropriate calls and sending hostile text messages about the three girls from incognito phone numbers.
The three girls and their mothers testified during the trial that they were scared after receiving the messages because they didn't know who was sending them. Spone never identified herself when asked who the texts were from, prosecutors said.
Spone didn't testify during the trial. Her attorney, Robert Birch, argued that prosecutors did not prove that his client had sent the messages. He also said that the messages were sent by someone who was worried about the three girls.
Spone was not behaving like a concerned mother, prosecutors said, because she initially went to the cheerleading team's coaches instead of the parents. Spone knew the mothers of all three girls and could have contacted them individually through her own number, investigators said.
Prosecutors also said that the messages didn't have to be sent directly to the girls in order to be considered harassment.
Spone is now out on bail and awaiting a sentencing date.
Spone's case, which has drawn international attention, is the subject of a new fictional TV series called "Deadly Cheer Mom" that debuted Friday on the streaming service Tubi.