Former YouTube singing sensation Austin Jones, 26, was sentenced on May 3 to 10 years in federal prison for two counts of child pornography after asking six underage girls, some as young as 14, to send him sexually explicit videos. Jones pleaded guilty to the charges in February.
The Bloomingdale, Illinois native originally found fame online as an a cappella singer, performing covers of songs by Panic at the Disco, Fallout Boy, My Chemical Romance, and Rhianna. His success as a singer and teen heartthrob led to sales of both music and merchandise. Jones’ YouTube channel boasted over 530,000 subscribers and his videos racked up over 41 million views. YouTube shut down his channel on February 8, 2019 after he’d struck a plea agreement and admitted guilt.
Jones Told Young Girls to Make Sexual Videos to “Prove” They Were His Biggest Fans
On February 1, 2019, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, North District of Illinois, issued a press release stating that in 2016 and 2017, Jones “enticed (underage girls) to produce pornographic videos of themselves and send them to him.” In some cases, he guilted the girls by telling them that creating the videos for him was a way for them to “prove” they were his biggest fans.
“In addition to the six victims whom he enticed to send videos, Jones further admitted in the plea agreement that he used Facebook on approximately 30 other occasions to attempt to persuade minor girls to send him sexually explicit videos and photographs,” the statement added.
Investigators originally began looking into Jones’ exploits after stories began surfacing online around 2015 that he was asking fans or sexually explicit videos. The Illinois Attorney General’s Office of Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force and the Bloomingdale Police Department provided assistance in the investigation.
Jones Originally Said He was Only Asking for Twerking Videos
As social media pressure began to mount, and former fans began to openly criticize his behavior, Jones responded by saying he had merely asked his most ardent followers to send him “twerking” videos. Twerking is a dance style where the hips and buttocks are thrust while the dancer is in a squatting position.
A Change.org petition was circulated in 2015 asked The Vans Warped Tour to remove him from their musical lineup. “On numerous accounts, he has pressured girls as young as 13 into sending him videos of them twerking. As a 15-year-old girl, I find this disgusting,” the petition’s organizer said.
In a nearly 17-minute video confessional, Jones readily admitted to he’d made the the inappropriate requests but said that he’d never asked girls to perform in any sexual manner. “It’s not something that I’m proud of, it’s not something that I think is right, and I shouldn’t have done it,” he said directly to the camera. Adding that he wanted to “set the record straight,” and wanted to clear up online rumors he continued, “Nothing ever went further than twerking videos. There were never any nudes, never any physical contact. It never happened.”
Jones claimed in his confession video that the negative backlash on social media was so intense he’d considered suicide. “This was a very interesting and emotional experience for me.” Jones added that his video apology had been delayed due to psychiatric hospitalization for depression.
Jones Asked Some of the Girls to Say “I’m Only 14” in Their Videos
Authorities soon discovered Jones had been requesting far more than twerking videos. In 2017 the pop crooner was arrested by Department of Homeland Security agents at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport on child pornography charges. Jones’ plea agreement details how investigators uncovered that he had coerced a 14-year-old girl, described in legal documents as “Victim A,” to make a video, and directed what she should say and do. “Jones repeatedly encouraged Victim A to continue dancing when she wanted to stop, and provided directions regarding how she should dance, what she should wear, how she should adjust the camera in the videos, and that she should talk about her age “the whole time,” it said. Victim A sent Jones 15 videos.
The plea agreement also reveals how Jones coached another 14-year-old girl, “Victim B.” “Jones provided direction regarding how she should dance, what she should wear, how she should adjust the camera in the videos and that she should talk about her age and say, ‘I’m only 14’ while dancing in the videos.” Jones told some of his other victims that he could provide “modeling opportunities” but that they needed to “audition.”
“Production and receipt of child pornography are extraordinarily serious offenses that threaten the safety of our children and communities,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Katherine Neff Welsh argued in the government’s May 3 sentencing memorandum. “Jones’s actions took something from his victims and their families that they will never be able to get back.”