He found YouTube stardom with his a capella covers. Now Austin Jones faces prison for pressuring underage fans to send him explicit videos
Eric Levenson, CNN
(CNN) — With his swooping blonde hair, bright blue eyes and versatile voice, Austin Jones piled up millions of views with his a capella covers of songs by Justin Bieber, Fall Out Boy and others.
Followers — mainly teenage girls — adored his slickly produced videos, and as the likes and subscribers poured in, he began to perform on tour across the country.
But on Friday, a year and a half since the last time he posted to his 534,000 YouTube subscribers, Jones appeared before a federal court in the Northern District of Illinois and pleaded guilty to receipt of child pornography.
The 26-year-old from suburban Chicago had been using his online popularity to solicit sexually explicit videos from girls as young as 14, a plea agreement states.
Jones was charged in June 2017 with two counts of production of child pornography and, according to a plea agreement, admitted to enticing six underage girls to make pornographic videos of themselves and to send them to him.
Attorneys for Jones did not respond to a request for comment.
Since his 2017 arrest, Jones has been out on a $100,000 secured bond. He now faces a mandatory minimum of five years in prison and a maximum of 20 years, prosecutors said. His sentencing is set for May 3.
What the complaint said
Even before his arrest, Jones had come under fire for his interactions with young fans. In June 2015, he posted a 16-minute YouTube video in which he looked directly into the camera and admitted that he used to ask fans to send him twerking videos.
“Nothing ever went further than twerking videos,” he said. “There were never any nudes, never any physical contact.”
But a federal criminal complaint cites two instances of Jones messaging teenage girls to send him explicit videos of themselves dancing.
In one example, Jones messaged with a girl who told him she was 14 years old. Jones allegedly asked her to send videos of herself dancing in a sexual manner and referred to it as a “try out” and an “opportunity.”
According to the complaint, Jones instructed the girls on how to shake or “clap” their buttocks and expose themselves in videos for him.
“At the beginning, get super close and say these lines: hey Austin, it’s (name) and this butt is (age) years old and then make it clap for 30 seconds. Got it?” Jones wrote on Facebook to the girl, the complaint states.
She ultimately sent him about 15 videos of her dancing, including 10 videos in which she exposed herself, the complaint states.
In all, Jones pleaded guilty on Monday to enticing six underage girls to produce similar pornographic videos of themselves and send them to him. He told one of the girls that the video was part of a “modeling” opportunity, the plea agreement states.
He also admitted that he had attempted to persuade minor girls to send him sexually explicit photos and videos on about 30 other occasions, the plea agreement states.
Jones was first arrested that June 2017 at O’Hare International Airport and questioned in a recorded interview, the complaint states. He waived his Miranda rights and admitted to using Facebook to have sexually explicit chats with underage girls, receive explicit videos from them and view those videos for sexual pleasure.
Jones’ Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter have since been deleted, but his YouTube videos remain online. His most recent YouTube video, posted in May 2017 and titled “I NEED YOUR HELP,” asks fans to follow him on a new Facebook page.
“Thank you so much, I love you all dearly and I will have some exciting news for you very, very soon,” he said.
He was arrested less than a month later.
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