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A Bucks County woman created ‘deepfake’ videos to harass rivals on her daughter’s cheerleading squad, DA says

Raffaela Spone, 50, was charged with cyber harassment and related offenses. There was no indication that her high school-aged daughter knew what her mother was doing,

Raffaela Spone, 50, was charged with cyber harassment and related offenses.
Raffaela Spone, 50, was charged with cyber harassment and related offenses.Read moreAlexandru Cuznetov / MCT

A Bucks County woman anonymously sent coaches on her teen daughter’s cheerleading squad fake photos and videos that depicted the girl’s rivals naked, drinking, or smoking, all in a bid to embarrass them and force them from the team, prosecutors say.

The woman, Raffaela Spone, also sent the manipulated images to the girls, and, in anonymous messages, urged them to kill themselves, Bucks County District Attorney Matt Weintraub’s office said.

Spone, 50, of Chalfont, was charged late last week with misdemeanor counts of cyber harassment of a child and related offenses, according to the affidavit of probable cause for her arrest. She was released on the condition that she appear at a preliminary hearing on March 30. There was no indication she had hired an attorney, and attempts to reach her Friday by phone or email were unsuccessful.

The affidavit says Spone last year created the doctored images of at least three members of the Victory Vipers, a traveling cheerleading squad based in Doylestown. There was no indication that her high school-age daughter, who was not publicly identified, knew what her mother was doing, according to court records.

Police in Hilltown Township were contacted by one of the victim’s parents in July, when that girl began receiving harassing text messages from an anonymous number, the affidavit said. The girl and her coaches at Victory Vipers were also sent photos that appeared to depict her naked, drinking, and smoking a vape. Her parents were concerned, they told police, because the videos could have caused their daughter to be removed from the team.

As police investigated, two more families came forward to say their daughters had been receiving similar messages from an unknown number, the affidavit said. The other victims were sent photos of themselves in bikinis, with accompanying text saying the subjects were “drinking at the shore.”

After analyzing the videos, detectives determined they were “deepfakes” — digitally altered but realistic looking images — created by mapping the girls’ social media photos onto other images.

Detectives traced the phone numbers to a website specializing in selling them to telemarketers, and followed the data to an IP address that showed activity from within Spone’s house in Chalfont. After searching Spone’s smartphone, detectives found evidence linking her to the numbers used to send the harassing texts and images, the affidavit said.

George Ratel, whose daughter Spone allegedly victimized, said he’s frustrated over the situation, especially because of how it affected the cheerleading team.

Ratel said his daughter and the two other victims were initially friends with Spone’s daughter. He believes the harassment was triggered after he and his wife told his daughter to stop hanging out with Spone’s daughter, due to concerns over the other girl’s behavior.

“I don’t know what would push her to this point,” Ratel said. “As a dad I was pretty upset about it. It’s an image put out there of my daughter that is simply not true.”

The coaches and gym owners, Mark McTague and Kelly Cramer, declined to comment Friday.