In July 2020, a mother of a Victory Vipers cheerleader in Bucks County, Pennsylvania approached police with a disturbing report: Someone was harassing her teenage daughter and sending doctored images of the underage girl to make it appear as if she was naked, vaping, and drinking. Shortly after, two more families came forward with similar stories: Their daughters, all members of the same cheerleading squad, were being targeted by an unknown person with doctored photos and videos.
But it was the eventual suspect that caused concern and confusion among the three girls' families. On March 4, authorities arrested who they believe to be the person behind the coordinated harassment campaign. Raffaela Spone, 50, allegedly harassed members of her own daughter's cheerleading squad for months. Spone, who now faces three misdemeanour counts of cyber harassment of a child, among other related offences, allegedly began targeting the girls after they had a reported "falling out" with her daughter.
In addition to harassing those three members of the Vipers cheerleading squad for months, Spone is being accused of lifting photos from their social media accounts and altering them to make it look like the girls were drinking and vaping, sometimes while naked or while wearing bikinis.
In one instance, the Spone allegedly urged a 17-year-old girl to kill herself. "I do get hate comments — nothing to this extreme, but I was really upset," the girl told a local ABC affiliate. "I was like, 'Who says this to someone? Who thinks it's OK?' It made me more mad than upset."
Spone is said to have sent doctored videos and pictures of the girls to the cheerleading squad's coaches and gym owners. The intent, per an affidavit of probable cause, was to get the girls kicked off the squad — a known consequence for vaping or drinking while underage. Spone also allegedly sent text messages and made phone calls to the gym from multiple phone numbers, according to authorities.
"I felt like if I said to someone… I… like… no one, no one would trust me. They had the video on proof, even though the video wasn't real," Madi Hime, a Victor Vipers cheerleader, told the TODAY Show. "I didn't know how to protect her from that. I didn't know who to protect her from. There were a lot of sleepless nights," Madi's mother added.
So, how exactly did Raffaela Spone finally get caught in her cheer tower of lies? Police were able to track an IP address and phone numbers back to Spone's home, and allege she used her smartphone to send messages, doctored photos, and deepfake videos via an app that enabled her to hide her number. "We've always taken for granted that a photo is a photo, a video is a video," Bucks Country District Attorney Matt Weintraub told TODAY. "We can't take that for granted anymore."
There is no indication that Spone's daughter was aware of her mother's actions, and Weintraub said "the daughter is completely blameless in this" during a Monday news conference. Spone herself has denied the allegations and the charges, and her lawyer told TODAY: "We are going to aggressively fight this."
Weintraub says that if convicted, it's unlikely that Spone will face the maximum penalty of six years in prison, given that she has no prior criminal history.
In a statement obtained by TODAY, the Victory Vipers said, in part, that their "group has always promoted a family environment and we are sorry for all individuals involved."