- By Bernd Debusmann Jr.
- BBC News, Washington
The business partner of YouTuber Ruby Franke, once a popular parenting counselor, has pleaded guilty to four child abuse charges.
Jodi Hildebrandt, 54, was accused of helping starve and abuse Franke’s children after her son escaped from the family’s Utah home.
Hildebrandt’s lawyer said she “took responsibility” and wanted to spare the children from testifying.
Franke pleaded guilty to aggravated child abuse charges earlier this month.
The YouTube channel 8 Passengers, launched in 2015 by mother-of-six Franke, 41, with Hildebrandt, amassed more than two million subscribers before being deactivated earlier this year.
The two men – who worked together at a consultancy run by Hildebrandt – used the platform to give parenting advice and present themselves as role models to other families. Franke has appeared in videos posted by Hildebrandt on her site, ConneXions Classroom.
In August, their success collapsed when Franke’s 12-year-old son climbed out of a window and ran to a neighbor’s house asking for food and water.
The Santa Clara Ivins Department of Public Safety later described the boy as “emaciated and malnourished” with open wounds and “deep lacerations from being tied with a rope.”
Police investigating the incident also discovered that a second child, Franke’s daughter, was malnourished and took her to hospital. Franke’s four minor children were eventually placed in state custody.
The two women were arrested at Hildebrandt’s home on August 30.
On December 18, Franke pleaded guilty to four counts of aggravated child abuse.
In a statement at the time, Franke’s lawyers sought to shift the blame to Hildebrandt for “misleading” her. They accused Hildebrandt of isolating her from friends and family and subjecting her to “a distorted sense of morality.”
The BBC has contacted Hildebrandt’s lawyer for comment.
As part of his plea deal, Hildebrandt admitted to abusing Franke’s children, including forcing his daughter to repeatedly jump into a cactus and run for long periods of time on dirt roads. Franke’s son and daughter were forced to perform intense physical labor under the scorching sun with little, if any, food and water.
In their respective plea agreements, both women also admitted to telling the two children that they were “possessed” and should be punished for their alleged disobedience.
Both women are scheduled to be sentenced on February 20.
Each charge carries a prison sentence of up to 15 years, which the women can ultimately serve consecutively.
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