YouTube star Austin Jones sentenced after coercing underage followers to send explicit videos

He "preyed on their youth, their vulnerabilities and most glaringly, their adoration of him," prosecutors said of Austin Jones' coercion of underage followers.
Image: Austin Jones
Austin Jones enters the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse in Chicago on May 3, 2019.Terrence Antonio James / TNS via Getty Images

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By Phil McCausland and Associated Press

A YouTube star who preyed upon his large teenage following by coercing young girls to send him sexually explicit videos was sentenced in a Chicago federal court to 10 years in prison.

After Austin Jones, best known for his a cappella covers on YouTube, pleaded guilty to child pornography charges in February, prosecutors pushed for an 11-year prison sentence on Friday — though he faced a maximum of 20 years.

Jones' lawyers sought the minimum of five years, but the judge ultimately gave him 10 years in federal prison.

Prosecutors said Jones "preyed on their youth, their vulnerabilities and most glaringly, their adoration of him," according to the Associated Press. A defense filing contended Jones' life was "marred with abuse, pain, loss and death." It asserted he suffered sexual abuse as a child.

Once known for producing a cappella covers such as "Sugar, We're Going Down" by Fall Out Boy and "Sorry" by Justin Bieber in a series of skillfully edited videos, Jones amassed a following that included more than 534,000 subscribers and gave him more than 41 million views on YouTube.

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YouTube demonetized Jones' YouTube channel after he was first charged.

Court documents show that Jones admitted to pursuing online conversations with six girls, aged either 14 or 15, in 2016 and 2017. The initial criminal complaint said that the girls sent multiple videos to Jones — one 14-year-old sending approximately 15 videos, 10 of which were explicit — and made clear their ages to him.

In one exchange, Jones acknowledged he shouldn't be talking to a 14-year-old due to her age. He repeatedly told her, however, that she was "so lucky" she had his attention, and then told her she would have to "prove" that she was his biggest fan, according to the court documents.

Later, Jones told the girl, "If you're lucky, maybe I'd let you suck my d---." When the girl said she didn't want either of them to get in trouble over the videos she was making, he replied, "I guess you really aren't my biggest fan .....ok then."

Beyond the six girls, the YouTube star also admitted in the plea agreement that he had used Facebook to convince underage girls on approximately 30 other occasions to send him sexually explicit videos and photos, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern District of Illinois said.

In addition to giving the girls suggestions for poses and underwear choices, Jones frequently gave them "lines" to recite, the Associated Press reported.

Before his guilty plea, rumors circulated about Jones' lewd behavior.

A petition in 2015, started by an anonymous person, asked that he be removed from the Warped Tour, a traveling music festival mostly comprised of rock acts.

The petition alleged that Jones was asking underage girls for naked pictures. It received more than 9,000 signatures.

Kalhan Rosenblatt contributed.