Feb 20, 2024 - News

Parenting influencers Ruby Franke and Jodi Hildebrandt sentenced in Utah child abuse case

Two women sitting on a gray couch.

Video screengrab from Facebook.

YouTube celebrity mom Ruby Franke and her business partner, former therapist Jodi Hildebrandt, each were sentenced Tuesday to four to 60 years in prison for abusing Franke's two youngest children.

  • The two kids were found malnourished and injured this summer at Hildebrandt's Ivins home.

The big picture: The case has sent ripples through Utah's conservative religious culture, in which Hildebrandt is a celebrity in her own right.

  • Her podcast had 500,000 listeners as of 2019, according to EternalCore, a faith-related therapists' organization.
  • Franke's "8 Passengers" YouTube channel had more than 2 million subscribers, who followed — and at times criticized — her strict parenting style with her six children.

Details: Judge John Walton sentenced both women to four consecutive sentences of 1 to 15 years in prison, one for each 2nd-degree felony count of aggravated child abuse.

  • While Walton did not opine on Franke's sentence, he told Hildebrandt, "What happened to these children and your philosophy in dealing with them frankly seems detached from reality or any objective standard of decency, or even common sense."

Catch up fast: Franke's 12-year-old son escaped Hildebrandt's home through a window in August and asked neighbors for help. Investigators found the boy and his sister had been held in "concentration camp-like" conditions since May, prosecutors said Tuesday.

  • In plea agreements filed in December, Franke and Hildebrandt admitted that they abused the two children — for example, holding the boy's head underwater and forcing the girl to jump into a cactus. They were kept outside for days at a time, forced to perform physical labor in the desert heat of Washington County.
  • They described the abuse as acts of "love," court documents state, in an effort to indoctrinate the children to believe they were "evil" and "possessed," and required the punishments to "repent," court documents state.

The intrigue: Franke claimed she also was brainwashed by Hildebrandt. Franke's lawyers accused Hildebrandt of isolating her from her family and "distorting" her sense of morality.

  • "So far she has used her time in jail to unwrap the layers upon layers of deceit and deception, foisted upon her over the last four years by an unscrupulous individual," Lamar Winward, Franke's attorney, said Tuesday.

Zoom in: Hildebrandt's former clients have described her therapy style as punitive and religiously extreme.

  • Patients have said she indiscriminately diagnosed them with "porn addiction" and told them to cut off family members who didn't follow her teachings.
  • Other clients have said Latter-day Saint clergy referred them to Hildebrandt, even after the state put her on probation for sharing private details that a patient said led to his discipline by the church and Brigham Young University.
  • Franke and Hildebrandt have encouraged parents to deny their children's LGBTQ+ identities on their "Moms of Truth" parenting support group, which has more than 13,000 members on Facebook and nearly 330,000 followers on Instagram.

Of note: In Franke's plea deal, prosecutors said they would remain neutral in her subsequent parole hearings.

  • However, they said Friday that Hildebrandt "has repeatedly claimed that she is the victim and the children are the perpetrators," and they plan to share recorded phone calls that demonstrate her lack of remorse.
  • "She has gone so far as to say that the things said in this proceeding and covered by the media today will be full of lies," Washington County Attorney Eric Clarke said Tuesday.

What they're saying: Franke spoke at length, apologizing to her children, church leaders,friends and husband, who filed for divorce after her arrest.

  • "I was led to believe that this world was an evil place filled with cops who control, hospitals that injure, government agencies that brainwash, church leaders who lie in lust, husbands who refuse to protect and children who need [to be] abused," Franke said. "My choice to believe and behave this paranoia culminated into criminal activity for which I stand before you today ready to take accountability."
  • Hildebrandt, meanwhile, did not apologize but said she "sincerely love[s] these children" and that she was "willing to submit to what the state feels would be an appropriate amount of time served to make restitution."

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