Spone (pictured) was arrested on March 4 and charged cyber harassment of a child after police said she created incriminating ‘deepfake’ photos and videos of her teenage daughter’s cheerleading rivals. Last week prosecutors revealed that they aren’t sure if the images were actually manipulated
Pennsylvania cops who charged a woman with creating incriminating ‘deepfake’ photos and videos of her teenage daughter’s cheerleading rivals have now admitted that they aren’t sure if the images were actually manipulated.
Raffaela Spone, 50, was arrested on March 4 after police said she carried out a plot to smear three of her daughter’s teammates on the Victory Vipers cheer squad in Bucks County by using software to create fake images of the teens ‘naked, drinking and smoking’.
One of the alleged ‘deepfakes’ was a video showing one of the girls vaping – which violated the rules of the cheer squad – and another showed a girl without clothes in a public space.
At the time of Spone’s arrest police claimed she sent the images to the girls along with a string of harassing messages and phone calls from disguised numbers.
In a bizarre twist more than two months later, Bucks County District Attorney Matt Weintraub on Friday revealed that police do not have definitive proof that Spone created the images or that they were manipulated at all.
‘While investigators originally believed at least one video showed evidence of the use of so-called deep-fake face-replacement technology, police are at this point unable to confirm the video evidence was falsified,’ Weintraub said at a preliminary hearing.
Despite that admission, Weintraub said his office will still prosecute Spone for allegedly harassing the girls over the phone. She is facing six counts total – three for cyber harassment of a child and three for harassment.
At the time of her arrest police said Spone carried out a plot to smear three of her daughter’s teammates on the Victory Vipers cheer squad in Bucks County by using software to create fake images of the teens ‘naked, drinking and smoking’. One of the videos (left and right) appeared to show victim Madi Hime vaping
‘Harassment is a crime. It is illegal for an adult to harass a child,’ Weintraub said. ‘Pennsylvania law does not permit an adult to repeatedly and anonymously annoy, alarm or harass someone.’
Magisterial District Judge Regina Armitage agreed that there was enough evidence to uphold the charges.
Spone, whose trial was set for June 9, has denied creating deepfake videos since her arrest.
Her attorney, Robert Birch, maintained her innocence and condemned the Weintraub’s handling of the case after Friday’s hearing.
‘The DA held a press conference in March where he told the press this was about Mrs Spone using deep fake technology to target these alleged victims,’ Birch said.
‘He also stated that they had voice messages that stated that the girls should “kill themselves,”‘ Birch said. ‘He caused an international fury over this when he knew that there was no such evidence.’
Police in Hilltown Township opened their investigation into Spone last July after the family of one of the victims, Madi Hime, contacted them about the alleged harassment she’d been facing from an unknown phone number.
In December two other parents came forward to report that their daughters – also members of the Victory Vipers – had been similarly targeted.
After Spone’s arrest in March, Madi shared her shock at seeing what she claimed was a doctored clip of herself vaping.
She has not spoken publicly since DA Weintraub’s revelation that the video may not have been doctored.
Madi was 16 years old when her cheer coach approached her about the video which appeared to show her puffing from a vaping device last year.
‘I went in the car and started crying and was like: ‘That’s not me in the video,” Madi, now 17, told GMA. ‘I thought if I said it, no one would believe me because obviously, there’s proof, there’s a video – but obviously that video was manipulated.’
Madi said she also received other images via text from someone posing as a concerned parent.
When she asked for the person’s name, she received an automated response asking if she wanted to change her phone number.
Madi Hime (left) appeared on Good Morning America with her mom Jennifer (right) on March 15 to share her shock at seeing what she claimed was a doctored clip of herself vaping
Madi – one of three girls allegedly targeted by Spone – is pictured in her cheerleading uniform
Madi ultimately brought the messages to her mother, Jennifer Hime.
‘It had actually been going on for quite a while, I just didn’t know about it,’ Hime told GMA.
‘I told [Madi]: ‘I’m going to call the police,’ because I wanted her to know that’s how much I believed her.’
Investigators with the Hilltown Township Police Department traced the phone number that had sent the messages to Madi back to Spone, and later learned that she’d allegedly sent similar images to the two other teammates.
Detectives traced four phone numbers that had sent the deepfake images and tied them all to a telemarketing website.
They then traced data from that website to an IP address at Spone’s house.
Police say a subsequent search of Spone’s phone uncovered the text messages and deepfake images that she had sent to the three victims and the team’s coaches.
‘Deepfaking’ is the process of doctoring an existing image or video, but it is more sophisticated than Photoshop because it uses a form of artificial intelligence.
Police initially said Spone created the deepfakes by ‘mapping the victims’ social media photos onto other images in a bid to make them look real.
The mom was then accused of anonymously sending the graphic pictures and videos to the coaches of the cheerleading team in an apparent bid to get them kicked off.
She also allegedly sent the doctored images directly to the teenage girls, along with message to one of them urging her to ‘kill herself’.
Court records obtained by The Philadelphia Inquirer state that there is no evidence Spone’s daughter knew what her mother was doing.
Police initially said Spone made the images of the girls ‘naked, drinking and smoking’ in a bid to get them kicked off of the Victory Vipers squad after they had a falling out with her daughter