PHOENIX (AP) — An Arizona woman who had a popular YouTube channel featuring children pleaded not guilty Friday to charges she abused some of her seven adopted children by pepper-spraying them, striking them with a clothes hanger and making them take ice baths.
Pinal County Attorney’s spokeswoman Christy Wilcox said Machelle Hobson remained in custody on $200,000 bond after entering her plea on 24 counts of child abuse, five counts of kidnapping and one count of aggravated assault. A pre-trial conference was set for May 1.
Hobson is accused of using pepper spray on a child’s genitals, applying a lighter or stun gun to a victim’s genitals, arm or other body parts, and causing them to suffer malnourishment.
Authorities have previously said Hobson locked up the children in a closet for days without food, water or access to a bathroom.
YouTube has since terminated Hobson’s channel, which featured skits about children stealing cookies or a boy with superpowers, after determining the channel violated its guidelines.
Pinal County Attorney Kent Volkmer said after Friday’s hearing that investigators had found a 2018 tax record that showed Hobson earned about $300,000 last year and prosecutors have since frozen her bank accounts.
“We believe they were mostly the ill-gotten gains of an illegal enterprise, of child abuse,” Volkmer said of Hobson’s accounts.
“This is an ongoing case with tons of information. Obviously with her being involved with YouTube she videotaped a lot,” said the prosecutor. “There’s a lot of video, a lot of information that we don’t normally have in a case.”
Police have said the children were taken out of school so they could keep filming the video series and hadn’t been back for years.
Hobson’s biological daughter, who is an adult, alerted police of the abuse, prompting officers to visit Hobson’s home in the city of Maricopa, about 35 miles (56 kilometers) south of Phoenix.
The Arizona Department of Child Safety later removed the children from the home, and Hobson and two of her adult sons were arrested. The sons, Logan and Ryan Hackney, are accused of failing to report abuse of a minor. No formal charges have been brought against the two, who have a preliminary court hearing April 8.
The child safety agency has declined to say whether it had any prior contacts or complaints related to Hobson, citing confidentiality laws.
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