Following his arrest in 2017 and subsequent bail awaiting trail, former YouTube star Austin Jones pleaded guilty to a child pornography charge Friday. He is now awaiting sentencing as he faces a minimum of five years in federal prison.
Jones, 26, pleaded guilty to “coercing six underage female fans to send him sexually explicit videos and attempting to do the same with as many as 30 other victims,” the Chicago Tribune reports.
The Chicago resident entered the plea of one count of child pornography during Friday’s hearing before U.S. District Judge John Lee. The 27-page plea agreement outlined Jones’ online conversations with six 14 and 15-year old girls between 2010 and 2017.
The conversations took place over Facebook messenger and Apple chat where Jones encouraged the girls to send “sexually explicit videos of themselves, including dozens of images of them performing graphic sexual acts,” the Tribune reports the plea deal states.
In several of the exchanges, Jones promised “modeling opportunities” or requested they prove to him they were his “biggest fan.” He also required the girls to discuss their age while they performed the sexual acts, according to the Tribune.
The plea deal also outlined how many of the girls were hesitant to send the videos. One stated she had to be up for school and “might have to finish tomorrow” while another stated she resorted to “cutting” as a result of the interactions, the document states.
Jones’ lawyer alleges he only recently began dealing with his own life’s traumatic events. Among those mentioned are being sexually abused by a close relative and his younger brother’s sudden death, the Tribune reports.
Prosecutors requested he be taken into custody immediately until he is sentenced. However, the judge allowed him to remain out on bail in order to seek psychiatric counseling.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Katherine Neff Welsh says Jones will be facing a mandatory minimum five-year prison sentence that could extend to a maximum of 20 years, according to the Tribune. Jones’ sentencing is set for May 3.
The first public allegations against Austin Jones
Jones was best known for his a capella covers of artists ranging from twenty one pilots to Fall Out Boy. In April 2015, Warped Tour announced he was joining fellow YouTubers Bryan Stars, Damon Fizzy, Johnnie Guilbert and Jordan Sweeto as part of the tour.
In May 2015, PupFresh.com shared accounts of Jones “lying about his age to get underage girls to send him twerking videos because they make him happy.”
The post included several message screenshots and other proof. One included video accused Jones of similar behavior when she was 15 and he was allegedly “22 or 23.”
A Change.org petition was launched in response to Jones’ Warped Tour involvement, amassing more than 4,000 signatures at the time. Fans also bombarded founder Kevin Lyman with messages to remove Jones. Lyman told AP at the time that he was investigating all of the YouTubers’ background before making a decision.
“The word ‘pedophile’ is a strong, strong term,” Lyman told AP. “While the world can be screwed-up at times, there is a criteria for things. In the court of the internet, people’s lives are being dragged out in front of the world with no due process. People throw very strong words out onto the internet and when it is old news to them, it leaves a trail of destruction in other people’s lives. This country was built on the concept of ‘innocent until proven guilty.’ Are we going to go back to this Salem witch hunt mentality? Communication needs to happen. I am actively encouraging that If women and girls feel they are being victimized, tell your parents, go to the police, talk to counsellors.”
The following week, Jones responded to the accusations with an apology in a now-deleted Facebook post.
“I’m embarrassed,” Jones said. “I’d have conversations online with girls that would involve me asking them to create a video of themselves twerking. Sometimes I’d make videos of myself doing some twerk moves in return. Here’s the truth: I NEVER asked them to do anything more than send a twerking video. Nothing EVER went beyond that.”
Jone then released a tell-all video addressing the accusations further.
“I used to ask fans for twerking videos,” he admitted near the beginning of the clip. “Yes, twerking the dance move. It’s not something that I’m proud of, it’s not something that I think is right, and I shouldn’t have done it.” He later delved into a recent bout with suicidal depression and various aspects of his life growing up.
In June 2017, Jones was arrested in Chicago. He was charged in federal court with two counts child pornography.
Jones was released on a $100,000 bond a few days later. He was ordered to stay offline and remain in his mother’s home 24-hours a day while he awaited trial.