YouTube star sentenced to 10 years in child pornography case

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CHICAGO — A federal judge Friday sentenced a YouTube star to 10 years in prison for coercing six girls to send him sexually explicit videos.

Prosecutors said Austin Jones, 26, used his celebrity status to manipulate teenage girls and have them send him pornographic videos and photos in 2016 and 2017. Authorities said Jones didn’t physically touch the girls — but argued he went into their bedrooms at night just the same.

Jones pleaded guilty earlier this year to child pornography charges. He was sentenced Friday to 10 years in prison and eight years of mandatory supervised release.

Two girls and two parents testified at an emotional sentencing hearing Friday at the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse. One of the victims described being institutionalized for four months while her father slept in a chair next to her, praying she didn’t commit suicide.

Prosecutors said Jones connected with 14- and 15-year-old girls through Facebook Messenger. He told the girls to touch themselves and dance for him. From his Bloomingdale, Ill., home, prosecutors said, Jones told the girls to “prove you’re my biggest fan.”

Prosecutors said Jones was obsessed with making the girls talk about their ages in the videos. He sometimes told them they were trying out for modeling opportunities.

Two victims tearfully told a judge Friday that they struggled with self-harm and suicidal thoughts. They said Jones preyed on their low self-esteem and that they’re ashamed they ever sent him videos. Parents who testified called Jones a predator with fame. Some of their daughters met Jones at his concerts, they said, and spoke of him as if he were Elvis.

“All teenagers are forced to contend with the malice of the internet age,” one father said. “It has molded kids in ways parents never saw coming.”

Prosecutors said Jones never touched any of the girls and deleted the videos without sending them to anyone else.

Jones in court Friday said he was deeply sorry and disgusted with himself. He said he was fully dedicated to getting treatment.

The judge acknowledged that Jones suffered significant trauma as a child. Jones was molested by his father; his sister died of cancer; his house was destroyed by fire. Still, the judge said, Jones should’ve recognized how much he was hurting the girls.

Jones sobbed through portions of the victims’ testimony Friday. He will have to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life. He was allowed to go home Friday and will return to court Monday, when the judge is expected to hear more about Jones’ mental health.

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