A Pennsylvania mother accused of bullying three of her daughter's cheerleading teammates was convicted by a jury Friday of three counts of harassment.
Raffaela Spone, 51, often identified in news stories as the “cheer mom,” allegedly targeted three teenage girls for harassment, mostly by way of texts from unknown or blocked numbers, Hilltown Township police said.
Some of the behavior described in texts or shown in imagery could have been enough to kick the targeted teens off the cheerleading squad, authorities said last year.
Spone’s defense said it was never proven that the texts and imagery came from Spone, and argued that whoever sent it may have acted in good faith to inform the girls’ parents about their behavior, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer‘s account of the trial’s end.
Spone’s attorney, Robert Birch, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The teenagers, as well as Spone’s daughter, were members of the Victory Vipers, a private, nonacademic cheerleading team in Doylestown. The business said in a statement last year that it “has always promoted a family environment and we are sorry for all individuals involved.”
The names of the victims and their parents have been withheld by officials.
Authorities initially alleged Spone used "deep fake" video manipulation technology to make it appear as if at least one teammate was misbehaving.
A 17-year-old girl, one of the case’s three victims, alleged last year that video of her vaping and a photo of her nude were fraudulent. The teammate also said Spone sent her multiple text messages, including one that suggested she should commit suicide.
Her mother reported the allegations to the Hilltown Township Police Department, which responded by kicking off an investigation in July 2020.
In May 2021, the Bucks County District Attorney’s office backed off its initial allegations that the defendant used “deep fake” software.
The case eventually only included three straight-forward counts of misdemeanor harassment in the third degree. Three other counts related to the allegations of manipulation were not considered at trial.
District Attorney Matt Weintraub alleged in his May statement that even without the sensational deep fake allegations, Spone "sent photos, videos and texts designed to harass three innocent children."
Police investigators said the texts and media at the center of the case were sent in summer 2020 and alleged they described the cheerleaders as having "toxic traits" such as drinking, smoking, or spending too much time with boys. The DA's office said last year some of the texts included photos of the girls that were paired with "cruel captions."
Police said they had tracked the texts to a unique IP address consistent with Spone’s location. At least some of the texts came from Spone’s phone, the department said.
Under Pennsylvania law, harassment in the third degree can include repeatedly sending messages anonymously and using the internet to harass a child. Each of the three counts carry a maximum sentence of one year in jail. A sentencing date has not been scheduled.
On Friday, Weintraub reiterated his long-held assertion that Spone broke the law regardless of what technology was involved.
"The jury heard the facts proving Ms. Spone’s guilt," he said through a spokesperson. "They rejected her full defense, and properly found her guilty of criminally harassing three teenage victims. The justice system has worked as it should."
If you or someone you know is in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, text HOME to 741741 or visit SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for additional resources.