A mother from Pennsylvania is accused of creating illegally manipulated video images of her daughter’s rivals on a traveling cheerleading squad and delivering video to their coaches in a misguided attempt to get the teens booted from the team, according to authorities.
The bogus content, which involves images so skillfully manipulated they are called “deepfakes” for their realism, were also circulated to no fewer than three of the girls on the Victory Vipers cheerleading team, complete with correspondence advising the teenagers to kill themselves, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, who referenced the Bucks County District Attorney’s Office.
Fifty-year-old Raffaela Spone has been arrested on charges of cyber harassment of a child and is said to have forged the phony photos, which display the underage cheerleaders drinking alcohol, smoking, and nude, authorities reported.
Spone was taken into police custody on March 4.
As indicated by court documents provided by the outlet, there was no reason to suspect Spone’s teenage daughter was in on the Machiavellian scheme her mother is accused of executing.
In July, it was reported to police that one of the girls had been getting strange harassing text messages from an unknown number, according to court documents, and that the teen’s coaches were also sent images of her in the nude, drinking and vaping.
Two other girls then came forward with allegations regarding the bogus pictures showing them in bikinis, which prompted the police to look into the anonymous number and racy content with illustrative texts saying the girls were “drinking at the shore.”
The girls’ parents reported the harassment to police because they were concerned the videos could result in their daughters being removed from the team, according to the paper.
The authorities discovered the strange images and videos were deepfakes, which are created to appear genuine but have actually been digitally modified.
Investigators traced the number back to telemarketers, which led them on a data trail to an IP address that ended at Spone’s home in Chalfont, about 50 minutes outside of Philadelphia. After going through Spone’s phone, detectives say they discovered evidence connecting her to the numbers used to send the disturbing texts and photos, according to the affidavit.
George Ratel is the father of one of the girls Spone is said to have victimized who has expressed his frustration over the entire bizarre ordeal, not the least of which because of how it impacted the cheerleading team.
Ratel stated his daughter along with the two other targeted girls started out as friends with Spone’s daughter. He claims the harassment began after he and his wife instructed their daughter to stop spending time with Spone’s daughter over concerns with the girl’s actions.
“I don’t know what would push her to this point,” Ratel explained. “As a dad I was pretty upset about it. It’s an image put out there of my daughter that is simply not true.”
Victory Vipers said to ABC News that the police had their full cooperation during the investigation and that “all athletes involved are no longer a part of our program.”
“Victory Vipers has always promoted a family environment and we are sorry for all individuals involved,” the team released in a statement. “We have very well-established policies and a very strict anti-bullying policy in our program.”
“When this incident came to our attention last year we immediately initiated our own internal investigation and took the appropriate action at the time. This incident happened outside of our gym.”