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 the YouTube channel Fantastic Adventures, 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, according to a probable cause statement from the Maricopa Police Department viewed by DailyMail.com.
The children told cops that they hadn’t attended school in years, in order to perform on Hackney’s YouTube channel instead.
‘They stated they are disciplined in the manners above if they do not recall their lines or do not participate as they are directed to,’ the probable cause statement said.
Hackney used pepper spray on the kids’ faces and bodies, the children told investigators.
‘I either get beat with a hanger or belt…or a brush…or get pepper sprayed from head to toe,’ one of the kids told police.
One girl told police that Hackney had used pepper spray on her genitals as punishment, leaving her in agony for four or five days.
On several occasions, one of the boys bled from Hackney pinching the tip of his penis hard with her fingernails, cops say.
Forced ice baths and stress positions were Hackney’s other favorite method to ensure compliance, according to the police document.
As the alleged abuse went on, Hackney was presumably getting rich from her her YouTube channel, which was cranking out several roughly 10-minute videos a month.
By expert estimates, the channel could have taken in roughly $2.5 million in total ad revenue, of which YouTube would have typically kept $1.125 million, with the rest potentially going to Hackney.
The channel remained active on Wednesday but was no longer running ads. YouTube confirmed the channel was demonetized once the company was made aware of the arrest.
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
‘As we’ve said previously, when we’re made aware of allegations like this, we take action,’ YouTube said in a statement to DailyMail.com.
‘With allegations so serious in nature, we terminate the channel immediately upon conviction, guilty plea, etc.’
The company stressed that it has flagging tools that allow users to report suspected child abuse in videos. Regarding suspected abuse taking place offline, YouTube said that it encourages calling police.
The company did not directly respond when asked whether it would keep the advertising revenue generated by Hackney’s channel.
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 off Hackney’s bedroom, 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 children told police horror stories of abuse and neglect, saying that they were locked in a closet they called the ‘green screen room’ and not allowed to eat or drink for days
One of the children told police she was extremely hungry and thirsty, but refused to eat a bag of chips that responding officers happened to have on hand, saying she was afraid that Hackney would smell the food on her breath and punish her.
Another child guzzled three 16-ounce bottles of water that the police offered in just 20 minutes.
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.’
The kids told police that Hackney would routinely lock them in her bedroom closet all day, which they called the ‘green screen room’.
They said they would sleep on the bare tile floor of the closet and go for days without being allowed to eat, drink or use the bathroom.
Hackney’s two adult sons, Ryan (left) and Logan (right) Hackney, were also charged with seven counts of failing to report child abuse
Ryan Hackney called himself the content editor for the channel and touted its success
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 of failing to report child abuse.
Police say that Logan admitted knowing about some of the abuse and had discussed contacting authorities with his brother, though neither did.
Ryan performed in several of the videos and describes himself on Facebook as a ‘content editor’ for the family YouTube channel, which he bragged about on the social network.
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.