Machelle Hackney, 48, was arrested on Friday in Maricopa, Arizona on child abuse charges
A woman has been accused of abusing her seven adopted children in order to force them to perform in lucrative YouTube videos.
Machelle Hackney, 48, was arrested on Friday in Maricopa, Arizona and charged with seven counts of child abuse, five counts of unlawful imprisonment and two counts of child molestation.
Hackney, who goes by her her maiden name Hobson, operates a YouTube channel which has 800,000 subscribers and more than 250 million total views.
The channel features her adopted children, ranging in age from six to 15, performing in a variety of whimsical scripted adventures often involving Nerf battles, and ending with the children facing the camera with a plea to ‘like and subscribe.’
Police say that Hackney used cruel methods to force her adopted children (above) to perform in YouTube videos, including forced ice baths and pepper spraying their genitals
The videos featured the children in whimsical scripted scenarios and Nerf battles
Police say that behind the camera, life for the children was far from pleasant.
The young performers were being starved, locked in a closet for days, and beaten with belts, brushes and hangars, according to a probable cause statement from the Maricopa Police Department.
Hackney used pepper spray on the kids’ faces and bodies, including their genitals, leaving them in agony for days, the children told investigators.
Forced ice baths and stress positions were Hackney’s other favorite method to ensure compliance, according to the police document. At least one of the boys bled from hard pinching on the tip of his penis, cops say.
As the alleged abuse went on, Hackney was presumably getting rich from her her YouTube channel, which was cranking out several 10-minute videos a month.
By some industry estimates, she could have banked as much as $2.5 million in advertising income from the channel, which remained active on Wednesday but has been demonetized by YouTube and is no longer running ads.
The adopted children told police that Hackney beat and confined them if they failed to remember their lines or perform as demanded in the videos
Police were alerted to the case by Hackney’s biological daughter on March 13, prompting a welfare check at the home 30 miles outside of Phoenix.
Cops became alarmed when they first found one adopted child in a closet, wearing only a diaper.
‘Officers came in contact with the six other children, who appeared to be malnourished, due to their pale complexion, dark rings under their eyes, underweight, and they stated they were thirsty and hungry,’ according to the probable cause statement.
The document said the children told police that Hackney would use ‘pepper spray all over their face and body, spank them, force them to take ice baths and when resisting would force their head underwater as well as she will make them stand in the corner with their arms raised above their head for several hours at a time.’
Hackney’s two adult sons, Ryan (left) and Logan (right) Hackney, were also charged with seven counts of child abuse each for failing to report conditions in the home
Hackney denied the accusations, and told police that the only punishment she uses is spanking and grounding the children, and making them stand in a corner.
She said she never used pepper spray on the children, although police found two canisters of the chemical irritant in her bedroom.
Hackney’s two adult sons, Ryan and Logan Hackney, were also charged with seven counts of child abuse each for failing to report conditions in the home.
Police say that Logan admitted knowing about some of the abuse and had discussed contacting authorities with his brother, though neither did.
Machelle Hackney is being held in the Pinal County Jail pending bond of $200,000.
It was unclear whether she or her sons had an attorney who could comment on their behalf.