Family vlogger Ruby Franke expected to enter plea agreement in child abuse case

Former family vlogger Ruby Franke is expected to enter a plea agreement Monday in Washington County, Utah, after being charged in September with six counts of felony child abuse.

The Utah mother of six had an audience of nearly 2.3 million subscribers before her family YouTube channel “8 Passengers” was removed from the platform. She and her business partner Jodi Hildebrandt were arrested in August after police found one of Franke’s children with open wounds after escaping from Hildebrandt’s home, and another one of her children in similar malnourished condition at Hildebrandt’s home.

Franke, who has been held without bail since her arrest, is pursuing “personal growth and rehabilitation” by apologizing to and trying to reconcile with members of her family, according to a statement released by her law firm Friday.

“Our client is working with the prosecutor’s office and anticipates resolving this matter quickly by entering a plea agreement with the court on Monday, December 18th,” the statement read.

The prominent child abuse case quickly became an internet spectacle this fall as it captivated online audiences and inspired a flurry of nonexpert takes across social media, including videos analyzing Franke’s old content for missed warning signs. It also highlighted the lack of legal protections nationwide for child influencers, an issue that has plagued the creator industry ever since family vlog content took off in popularity over the past decade.

Franke often collaborated on parenting and relationship advice videos with Hildebrandt for Hildebrandt’s life coaching service ConneXions, which has been criticized for its extreme teachings. Former clients told NBC News that the program pathologized patients’ behaviors as evidence of various addictions and encouraged people to cut off those who didn’t live in accordance with its teachings.

In Friday’s statement, lawyers for Franke said Hildebrandt “systematically isolated” Franke from her family over a prolonged period of time, which caused her to adopt a “distorted sense of morality” under Hildebrandt’s influence.

“Initially, Ms. Franke believed that Jodi Hildebrant had the insight to offer a path to continual improvement,” the statement read. “Ms. Hildebrant took advantage of this quest and twisted it into something heinous.”

Hildebrandt and her lawyer did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Franke’s husband, Kevin Franke, also filed for divorce from the family vlogger in November. In October, his attorney Randy Kester told that the couple had been separated for 13 months “at Ruby’s directive.”

“Kevin did not want to be separated,” Kester had said. “He wanted to work through concerns as a family. There was never any formal, written decree of separate maintenance or separation agreement. The separation was under terms proscribed by Ruby and Jodi Hildebrandt.”

Lawyers for Ruby Franke said in Friday’s statement that she is “devastated” by news of the divorce filing, but that she understands his reasoning and respects his decision. The statement also noted that she has offered her “full cooperation” to help reunite their children with Kevin Franke.

Kester did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Prior to her arrest this year, Franke had been under fire for her now-deleted parenting vlogs. Viewers have accused Franke and her husband of being abusive for years.

Their channel “8 Passengers” vlogged their parenting style as their six children grew up in Utah. The parents, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also shared their kids’ home-schooling.

Local child protective services were reportedly called in June 2020 after a petition called on the family to be investigated, citing an example from a now-deleted video that showed her teenage son sharing that he’d slept on a beanbag for seven months as a punishment for behavioral issues.

“It is our firm belief that Ms. Franke is a devoted mother who, unfortunately, was led astray,” her firm said in its Friday statement, referencing the impact of Hildebrandt’s alleged influence. “She is sincere in her commitment to securing the best possible future for her family, and we remain hopeful that, with the right support and understanding, she can navigate a path of healing and growth.”

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