A woman had been accused of adopting seven children and forcing them to perform for monetized YouTube videos. The 48-year-old woman, Machelle Hackney, was arrested on March 15 in Maricopa, Arizona, and was charged with seven counts of child abuse, five counts of unlawful imprisonment and two counts of child molestation. The mother, who goes by her maiden name of Hobson, runs the YouTube channel Fantastic Adventures, which had 800,000 subscribers and more than 250 million views in total.
The channel features the adopted children, who are between six and 15 years, performing in a variety of scripted adventures that include Nerf battles, and would always end with the children looking at the camera and asking for a "like and subscribe". Authorities have revealed, however, that the lives of the children off-camera were very different, Daily Mail reported.
According to a probable cause statement from the Maricopa Police Department, the children were reportedly being starved, locked inside a closet for days, and beaten. The children told authorities that they hadn't attended classes in school in years, because they had to perform in Hackney's YouTube channel instead. The statement said: "They are disciplined in the manners above if they do not recall their lines or do not participate as they are directed to."
Hackney had reportedly used pepper spray on the children's faces and bodies, according to what they told investigators. One of the children tod police officers: "I either get beat with a hanger or belt...or a brush...or get pepper sprayed from head to toe."
One of the girls also told police officers that her adoptive mother had used pepper spray on her genitals as a punishment and this left her in incredible pain for four to five days. On a few of the occasions, one of the boys had bled after Hackney had pinched the tip of his penis very hard with her fingernails. The police statement also stated that forced ice baths and stress positions were some of the woman's other favorite methods of making sure the children complied.
As the alleged abuse went on, Hackney was presumably getting richer from her YouTube channel, which was putting out a few roughly 10-minute videos every month. Experts have estimated that the channel could have been raking in around $2.5 million in ad revenue totally, of which the platform would have kept $1.125 million.
The rest potentially went to Hackney. The channel was active on March 20 but wasn't running ads. YouTube then confirmed that it demonetized the channel after the company was made aware of the arrest.
The company said in a statement: "As we’ve said previously when we’re made aware of allegations like this, we take action. With allegations so serious in nature, we terminate the channel immediately upon conviction, guilty plea, etc." The company also stressed that it has flagging tools on the site that allows users to report suspected child abuse videos.
Authorities were alerted to the disturbing abuse case by Hackney's biological daughter on March 13. This forced a welfare check to take place at the home which is 30 miles outside of Phoenix. Authorities were shocked to find one adopted child in a closet off Hackney's bedroom wearing just a diaper. The statement said: "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."
Hackney has since denied all the allegations and told authorities that the only punishment she ever used was spanking or grounding the children, aside from making them stand in a corner.
She also said that she never use pepper spray on the children, even though the police found two canisters of the chemical irritant in her bedroom.
Ryan and Logan Hackney, the mother's two adult sons, were also charged with seven counts of failing to report child abuse. Authorities said that Logan admitted to knowing about some of the abuse that went on and even spoke about contacting authorities with his brother, but neither of them did. Ryan has performed in a few of the videos and describes himself on Facebook as a 'content editor' for the YouTube channel. The Hackneys are currently being held at the Pinal County Jail and Machelle Hackney is pending a bond of $200,000.