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Life Coach, Business Partner of Parenting Vlogger Ruby Franke, Pleads Guilty to Child Abuse
“She takes responsibility and it is her main concern at this point that these children can heal, both physically and emotionally,” said Jodi Hildebrandt’s lawyer, Doug Terry.
A Utah life coach and former business partner of family vlogger Ruby Franke has pleaded guilty to multiple child abuse charges.
Relationship coach Jodi Hildebrandt pleaded guilty to four felony counts of second-degree aggravated child abuse in a St. George courtroom on Wednesday, NBC News reported. Hildebrandt, 54, who produced parenting and relationship advice videos with Franke, had originally been charged with six counts of felony child abuse.
Judge John Walton, who accepted the plea, which detailed accusations of “physical torture” and “severe emotional harm” to the children who were victimized, dismissed her remaining two counts.
The pair were arrested in August at Hildebrandt’s Ivins, Utah, home after one of Franke’s injured children escaped from the home and contacted authorities. The child, who begged for “food and water,” police said, was found to be “emaciated, “malnourished,” and had “open wounds and duct tape around the extremities.” Franke’s malnourished 10-year-old daughter was also located at Hildebrandt’s property.
What reason did Jodi Hildebrandt's lawyers give for her guilty plea?
“She has pled guilty because she did not want these children to have to testify,” Hildebrandt’s lawyer Doug Terry told reporters after the hearing concluded, according to Salt Lake City station KSL-TV. “She takes responsibility and it is her main concern at this point that these children can heal, both physically and emotionally.”
Franke pleaded guilty to four felony counts of second-degree aggravated child abuse on December 18. Per her plea deal, she had agreed to testify against Hildebrandt.
“One of the toughest things we ask victims of alleged abuse to do is testify in a trial against their abusers,” Washington County Attorney Eric Clarke said, the Deseret News reported. “We are pleased that the cases against Ms. Hildebrandt and Ms. Franke have both been resolved with the defendants agreeing to serve time in prison, and there will not be a trial requiring witnesses to testify. We are grateful for the multidisciplinary team that investigated this case. We have great law enforcement officers, case workers, and Children’s Justice Centers’ staff in our area and Utah County.”
Hildebrandt — who ran the controversial self-care and life coaching service ConneXions, which has been criticized for its radical approach — often filmed videos with Franke that were uploaded to YouTube and Instagram.
Ruby Franke had a history of child abuse accusations against her
Franke was known for the popular but now-defunct YouTube channel “8 Passengers.” The channel, where Franke shared parenting advice, had nearly 2.3 million subscribers prior to it being taken down. Many viewers had previously accused Franke and her husband of being chronic child abusers. A viral 2020 Change.org petition targeting the couple’s allegedly abusive behavior triggered a visit from child protective services and garnered almost 18,000 signatures.
Franke is described as a “certified mental fitness trainer” and content creator on ConneXions’ website.
Lawyers for Franke previously accused Hildebrandt of “systematically” isolating the mother of six from her family and subjecting her to a “distorted sense of morality.”
They also claimed that Franke believed Hildebrandt "had the insight to offer a path to continual improvement” and that the life coach "took advantage of this quest and twisted it into something heinous.”
Hildebrandt founded ConneXions in 2007, according to her LinkedIn profile. Her business offered parenting and relationship courses, which, according to past clients, were rooted in religious teachings, such as that of the Mormon Church, NBC News reported.
Those former clients also accused the program of separating partners and spouses, diagnosing patients' behaviors as indications of different types of addictions, and pressuring them to cut ties with loved ones who didn’t adhere to its extreme teachings. ConneXions — which also offered a variety of six-week to 18-week leadership training programs billed as helping to “avoid drama” in the workplace — charged clients anywhere from roughly $800 to $15,000, according its website.
Both Hildebrandt and Franke are scheduled to be sentenced on February 20. They remain in custody at a Washington County detention center, according to online jail records.