Jodi Hildebrandt: YouTuber Ruby Franke’s business partner pleads guilty

Ruby Franke and Jodi Nan Hildebrandt
Image caption,Ruby Franke (right) and Jodi Nan Hildebrandt (left) appeared in YouTube videos together

By Bernd Debusmann Jr

BBC News, Washington

The business partner of once popular parental advice YouTuber Ruby Franke has pleaded guilty to four charges of child abuse.

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 attorney said she “takes responsibility” and wanted to spare the children from testifying.

Franke pleaded guilty to aggravated child abuse charges earlier this month.

The 8 Passengers YouTube channel, launched in 2015 by mother-of-six Franke, 41, with Hildebrandt amassed more than two million subscribers before it was deactivated earlier this year.

The pair – who worked together at a consulting firm run by Hildebrandt – used the platform to give parental advice and to portray themselves as role models to other families. Franke appeared in videos posted by Hildebrandt on her site, ConneXions Classroom.

In August, their success came crashing down when Franke’s 12-year-old son climbed out of a window and ran to a neighbour’s house to plead for food and water.

The Santa-Clara Ivins Public Safety Department later described the boy as “emaciated and malnourished”, with open wounds and “deep lacerations from being tied up with rope”.

Police investigating the incident also found a second child – Franke’s daughter – malnourished and took her to hospital. All four of Franke’s minor children were eventually taken into the state’s custody.

The two women were arrested at Hildebrandt’s home on 30 August.

On 18 December, Franke pleaded guilty to four counts of aggravated child abuse.

In a statement at the time, Franke’s attorneys sought to lay the blame on Hildebrandt for leading her “astray”. They accused Hildebrandt of isolating her from friends and family and subjecting her to “a distorted sense of morality”.

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The BBC has reached out to Hildebrandt’s lawyer for comment.

As part of her plea agreement, Hildebrandt admitted abusing Franke’s children, including by forcing her daughter to jump into a cactus repeatedly and run for long periods on dirt roads. Both Franke’s son and daughter were forced to do strenuous physical labour in the hot sun with little, if any, food and water.

In their respective plea agreements, both women also admitted telling the two children that they were “possessed” and needed to be punished for their alleged disobedience.

Both women are due to be sentenced on 20 February.

Each charge carries a prison sentence of up to 15 years, which the women may ultimately serve consecutively.

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