A Pa. cheerleading mom was found guilty of harassing her daughter’s rivals
PHILADELPHIA — A Chalfont woman was convicted Friday of sending repeated, harassing text messages to the parents of her daughter’s rivals on a cheerleading squad.
Raffaela Spone, 51, was found guilty by a Bucks County jury after about an hour and a half of deliberation.
The case generated international interest after prosecutors accused the surburban mother of creating digital "deep fakes" of the teenage victims. But in the end, they presented no evidence that the photos and videos sent in the messages had been altered. Still, they said Spone’s behavior constituted harassment and urged the jury of seven women and five men to find her guilty.
It became clear during the four-day trial that the images Spone sent had not been doctored. One video showed one of the girls smoking a vape, while others depicted the girls posing for pictures at parties or wearing bikinis.
Assistant District Attorney Julia Wilkins said Spone’s behavior was “weird, creepy, and unsettling,” and, ultimately, illegal.
“You may not like the girls, you may not like the way their parents parent them, but the fact of the matter is that this affected them,” Wilkins said. “Their moms getting anonymous messages about them affected their mental health and well-being.”
Spone’s attorney, Robert Birch, told jurors the case lacked merit, especially after the more serious charges his client faced for the alleged deep fakes had been dismissed.
“If that was false in an affidavit sworn by a police officer, how can you believe the rest of it?” Birch asked. “That affidavit contains false statements.”
Birch criticized what he called a “non-investigation,” saying detectives erred in downloading information only from Spone’s phone, and not those of the teenagers or their parents. He likened that to only taking photos of one car involved in a crash.
He said prosecutors had not proven beyond a reasonable doubt that Spone had sent the text messages. But whoever did send the messages, he said, clearly was a concerned parent who wanted the teens’ mothers to see what they had been posting publicly on social media.
One of them, a video from TikTok, showed a victim saying she was starving herself and had contemplated suicide, which Birch said had been a clear “cry for help.”
“The purpose, I’m submitting to you, was simply to let parents know what was being posted,” Birch said. “I guess we can’t do that anymore, because if we dare to, it’s a crime.”
The texts were first reported to police in July 2020, when coaches at the Victory Vipers cheerleading gym in Doylestown Township reporting receiving anonymous messages about what some of the team’s members were posting on social media.
Over the next six weeks, additional messages were sent to the girls’ mothers, all from different, unknown numbers. In every message, the sender was anonymous, saying only t hat they and other parents were concerned about the posts the girls had made on TikTok and other platforms.
Detectives later traced the messages to Spone’s home through her IP address, and found that she had used a smartphone application to block her number. While searching her iPhone, detectives discovered the same videos and pictures sent to the parents, as well as disparaging texts about one of the victims that Spone sent to an acquaintance.
In another message, sent after Spone was first contacted by detectives at the outset of the investigation, she wrote “since when is informing them what their kids are doing a crime?”
Wilkins seized on this, telling jurors Spone’s claims about being concerned were insincere.
“She couldn’t be an adult, that’s why she did this,” Wilkins said. “You get to be the adults in the room. I ask you to find her guilty.”
The jury agreed. Bucks County Judge Brian McGuffin deferred Spone’s sentencing, but a date had not be selected as of Friday afternoon.