A Pennsylvania mother had been charged with cyber crimes after an investigation revealed that she anonymously sent fake indecent images of girls on her daughter’s cheerleading team to the group’s coaches in an attempt to force them off the team.
Bucks County District Attorney Matt Weintraub’s office said Raffaela Spone, 50, sent images of at least three members of the Victory Vipers team showing them naked, drinking, or smoking to the coaches and the girls themselves, and also sent anonymous text messages to the girls urging them to kill themselves, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports.
Spone was arrested on March 4, the Hilltown Township Police Department said, and charged with three counts of cyber harassment of a child and other related offenses. According to the Inquirer, she was released on condition that she appear at a preliminary hearing on March 30.
Hilltown Township police said the investigation began last July when they received a report of harassment from one of the victims’s parents. The parents said that the girl received text messages from an anonymous number and that both she and coaches received photos that appeared to show her drinking, vaping, and naked. The girl was removed from the team, the parents said, even though they were certain the images weren’t real.
The investigation revealed two more families with similar stories — both girls from those families received photographs showing them in bikinis with text that said the were “drinking at the shore.”
Investigators analyzed the imagery and determined they were “deepfakes,” credible looking images made by mapping pictures from the girls’ social media accounts onto other photos. Eventually, the detectives tracked the anonymous phone numbers to website that sells the numbers to telemarketers, and then tracked the data to an IP address at Spone’s home in Chalfont.
Detectives obtained a warrant to search Spone’s cell phone, an arrest affidavit says, ad they found evidence linking her to the numbers that sent the texts and imagery.
Court records say investigators found no evidence indicating that Spone’s teenage daughter knew what her mother had done.
“I don’t know what would push her to this point,” said George Ratel, whose daughter was one of the girls harassed. “As a dad I was pretty upset about it. It’s an image put out there of my daughter that is simply not true.”
Ratel told the Inquirer that all four of the girls, including Spone’s daughter, were friends, but he and his wife became concerned about Spone’s daughter’s behavior and told their teen to stop associating with her.
The owners of the Doylestown gym where the Victory Vipers are based declined to comment when contacted by the Inquirer.
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[Featured image: Raffaela Spone/Hilltown Township Police Department]