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A Pennsylvania mother has been accused of creating fake and doctored images of her daughter’s cheerleading rivals, falsely showing the teens nude, drinking, and smoking in an attempt to get them kicked off the cheerleading squad, according to authorities.
Raffaela Spone, 50, is now facing charges of cyber harassment of a child and harassment after allegedly targeting several members of her daughter’s team—even telling some they should kill themselves—in a series of vicious messages, some of which were also sent to the girls’ coach, according to an affidavit obtained by Oxygen.com.
The Hilltown Township Police Department began an investigation into Spone’s alleged activities in July after the mother of one of the teenage victims contacted police to say her daughter had been cyber bullied by an anonymous person in a series of text messages and phone calls for a month; the young girl was told “you should kill yourself,” in many of the messages, authorities said.
The communication also featured photos taken from the girl’s social media accounts that were doctored to make it appear that she was naked, vaping or drinking.
One of the altered videos, which appeared to show the teen vaping, was texted to the owner of the cheer gym, Victory Vipers, in an attempt to get the cheerleader kicked off of the team, authorities allege.
Police say Spone targeted at least three members of the team, although it didn’t appear that her own daughter was aware of the alleged harassment.
In another message, one of the teens was seen in a bikini with comments written over it about “toxic traits, revenge, dating boys and smoking.”
Authorities determined the images and videos to be “deepfakes” an artificial intelligence-based technology that can take a person’s still image and insert it into existing videos or photographs to make a realistic-looking fake.
The messages were sent using various phone numbers; however, police were able to trace the numbers to a website that sells numbers to telemarketers and linked the numbers back an IP address connected to Spone, according to the affidavit.
After confiscating electronic devices in Spone's home, detectives allegedly found evidence linking her to the harassing messages.
George Ratel, the father of one of the victims, told The Philadelphia Inquirer that he was upset about how the alleged harassment had impacted the cheerleading team.
“I don’t know what would push her to this point,” he 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.”
Victory Viper coaches Mark McTague and Kelly Cramer told ABC News that the organization has a “very strict anti-bullying policy” and began its own internal investigation after the allegations surfaced.
“Victory Vipers has always promoted a family environment and we are sorry for all individuals involved,” they said.
They added that “all athletes involved, are no longer apart of our program.”
Spone was arrested March 4 and was released on the condition that she appear at a preliminary hearing scheduled for later this month.
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