CLOVIS, Calif. (KGPE) – A Clovis gym owner almost lost everything after allegations of an improper relationship with a student-athlete.
The only evidence against him were screenshots of messages that were found to be fabricated.
The only way to escape the nightmare was to convince a jury they were a digital fake.
These applications that create fake messaging threads can be downloaded on your phone and used to make it look like you’re talking to your favorite celebrity.
It can also be used to make it look like you’re committing a crime.
Richard Alonso is the owner of Nemesis Sports Academy
He’s an athletic trainer, a husband, and a father who almost became a registered sex offender.
“I thought that it was unfair,” Alonso said. “To have that being associated with me was hard to take in because I am far from that.”
Alonso was accused of having an improper relationship with one of his athletes.
“I knew what I did and didn’t do, so in the aspect of did I do what they were alleging, no, I wasn’t worried about that,” Alonso said. “The truth would come out.”
And the truth would come out in the courtroom.
His attorney went to work proving the evidence was fake.
“The evidence in the case were screenshots,” Sally Vecchiarelli, Criminal and Juvenile Defense attorney, said. “So someone had created messages, and taken photos on their phone, and those photos were the only evidence.”
Before going to court, the messages brought into evidence were private messages on Instagram.
“I instantly knew they were fake,” Alonso said. “But the real question was how?”
Alonso’s personal and work phones were subpoenaed.
Thousands of pages were produced yet no incriminating correspondence was found.
“I had no idea you could fabricate Instagram messages.”
But a simple google search turned out to be an eye opener.
“There’s approximately 10-15 apps that you can use to create fake messages,” Vecchiarelli said.
“That same thread that was being used against me, we created that same exact thread in two to three minutes, you put them side by side and they looked identically,” Alonso said.
Vecchiarelli says these apps almost ruined a man’s life.
“These are very problematic and dangerous,” Vecchiarelli said.
They made a motion to dismiss the case.
“Once we saw what the evidence was, I put my cards on the table, I told the prosecutor this case should be dismissed, this case is unjust,” Vecchiarelli said.
But by law, any communication, or what looks like communication, is allowed in the courtroom.
“The way the law is, if someone presents a screenshot that appears to be communication on technology, it can come into evidence. It’s up to the jury to decide if they believe it.”
Alonso would still have his day in court.
“How is it that I’m having to go through a jury trial to prove screenshots weren’t from me?”
“It just doesn’t seem right and frankly, I feel the law needs to catch up with technology.”
The burden of disproving the evidence now fell on the defense.
“Ultimately, and what I argued in court to the pre-trial judge, was you’re putting the burden on us to prove these messages are fake when the prosecution should prove that they’re real,” Vecchiarelli said.
The defense was left to educate the jury on how these messages were fabricated and it wouldn’t come cheap.
Alonso paid thousands of dollars to hire a private investigator to testify.
“The reality is, what if he couldn’t have afforded an expert? Who would’ve educated the jury? Would he have been convicted for a crime he never committed?”
Ultimately, Alonso cleared his name, winning at trial but still losing in the process.
He lost time with his family, gym partnerships with local school districts and gym members left amid the allegations all stemming from a digital lie.
“That’s my position moving forward, I want to be able to create a platform to talk about my experience and educate on what it is that’s out there now, what people can do and how that can ruin someone’s life,” Alonso said.
Alonso says from court costs, hiring a private investigator, to the gym partnerships lost, he is out about $100,000 from the entire process.
He is now suing for defamation.
The accuser is a minor.
She’s not facing any charges.