MARICOPA, AZ -- A Maricopa woman behind a popular YouTube channel featuring her adopted children was on pace to make more than $1 million this year before she was arrested on charges of child abuse, according to a friend.
Machelle Hobson, 48, made more than $100,000 in a single month in ad revenue from her YouTube channel, according to the friend who said he spoke regularly with Hobson and saw financial documents. The channel had more than 700,800 subscribers and more than 250 million views.
YouTube removed the channel Wednesday, which showed Hobson's seven adopted children in playful scenarios. According to police, if the children did not recall their lines or follow direction, they would be locked in a closet, pepper-sprayed, beaten, starved or plunged into an ice bath.
Hobson was arrested on March 15 at her home in Maricopa on charges of child molestation, child abuse, unlawful imprisonment and child neglect. The Pinal Sheriff's Office originally identified her as Machelle Hackney but the Pinal County Attorney's Office clarified in court her name is Machelle Hobson.
Hobson remained in custody Wednesday in lieu of a $200,000 bond.
Jared Deluca, a friend and former co-worker of Hobson, said he met her children and never saw any signs of abuse. He said the doting mother he knew for seven years doesn't match the woman described by police in court documents.
“No matter what, your heart goes out to children. No child deserves to go through anything traumatic and knowing Machelle as long as I have, those kids have already come from traumatic backgrounds,” he said.
Deluca said when he lost his job, Hobson mentored him on launching his own YouTube channel and shared information with him about her ad revenue. He said he spoke with Hobson the day she was arrested by police and she denied any wrongdoing.
"She felt the kids were being coached on what to say [to police]," Deluca said.
Hobson's biological sons, Logan and Ryan Hackney, were released from custody Tuesday on their own recognizance as they await a court appearance on charges of failing to report the abuse.
Investigators with the Maricopa Police Department said Hobson forced her adopted children to skip school and appear in the online videos. Some of the children told police they hadn't been in school "for years."
During interviews with police, some of the kids said they were locked in closets without access to food or restrooms for days, pepper-sprayed, beaten and forced to take ice baths as punishment. If the children resisted the ice bath, Hobson "would force their head underwater," according to a police report.
“They would receive punishment by being pepper sprayed from head to toe,” Mickey Alvarado with the Maricopa Police Department said. “The mother would come in with a mask on and a face shield to spray them. They would be sprayed sometimes in the genitalia. One of the females reported she was sprayed in the genitalia and was locked in a room without any water or anything to clean that for 3 days.”
Hobson denied using a closet, pepper spray or ice baths to discipline the children. She told officers “the only forms of punishment she uses is having to stand in the corner, getting spankings and being grounded,” according to a police report.
“The children seemed relieved when officers were there talking to them,” Alvarado said.
During a welfare check at the home, police found one child in a closet wearing only a pull-up.
“They weren’t fed and they were made to wear adult style diapers,” Alvarado said. “They were also told if they soiled these diapers they would be punished.”
Officers noted the closet had a locking mechanism on it but was unlocked at the time. Police obtained a search warrant and found two cans of pepper spray, according to court documents.
“It is a chemical agent that burns and if not decontaminated immediately with continuous water or other types of decontaminate stuff, it burns and continues to burn and will continue to burn until it’s wiped off,” Alvarado said.
According to police, Hobson made the children stand in the corner of the home with their arms above their heads for hours.
During a police interview, one daughter told police she was "extremely hungry and thirsty," but when an officer gave her a bag of chips "she was fearful to eat it, as she did not want her mother Machelle to smell chips on her breath."
“One of the other children told staff she was hungry so they were going to provide her with a bag of chips,” Alvarado said. “She was reluctant to eat the chips because she said if her mom smelled chips on her breath she’d be punished.”
Deluca said Hobson fostered the children before adopting them and she appeared to be a model parent. He said he met the boy who starred in the YouTube videos as an infant.
"She was there worried and stressing as he had to go through extensive heart surgery as an infant," he said. "She fought for over two years to be able to adopt him. This isn't somebody who's just in it for a subsidy."
The Arizona Department of Child Safety confirmed they removed the children from the house on March 14.
According to DCS, after an adoption is approved, they are no longer involved with the family.
People likely want to know, how she was ever allowed to adopt them all.
The answer is because she seemed like an ideal parent.
The process of adoption is rigorous. DCS puts applicants to the test.
A test she would have passed.
"You've then got to go through fingerprint clearance where they're going to check state and federal databases where they're going to see if you have any police background, any history,” said attorney Douglas Gardner, with Davis Miles McGuire Gardner, PLLC.
DCS requires all foster placements undergo a complete vetting process before acquiring a license.
Gardner has never represented Hobson or worked on her adoption cases, but does help other families adopt children.
“When we do a background check, it's not a crystal ball and it’s not a 'what’s going to happen in the future,' it’s what's happened in the past,” Gardner explained.
Since Hobson had no criminal past, all appeared well and she was able to adopt all seven, currently ranging from 3 to 15 years old.
If you know a child who is being abused or neglected call the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-CHILD. The national hotline is operated 24/7 by counselors on the phone and via text.