Ruby Franke case: Business partner Jodi Hildebrandt pleads guilty to child abuse charges

Hildebrandt ran an online self-improvement program with Ruby Franke at the time of her arrest.

(Screenshot via Pool) Jodi Hildebrandt makes a courtroom appearance in St. George, Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2023.

Former therapist Jodi Hildebrandt pleaded guilty to four counts of aggravated child abuse Wednesday, nearly four months after police said they found two of Ruby Franke’s children malnourished at Hildebrandt’s Ivins home.

Hildebrandt ran an online self-improvement program with Franke, who previously posted parenting videos on her popular YouTube channel, before their August arrests. The women were each initially charged with six counts of aggravated child abuse after police discovered Franke’s 12-year-old son and 10-year-old daughter at Hildebrandt’s home. The children have remained in Washington County custody ever since.

Hildebrandt pleaded guilty to four counts of child abuse and two of the original counts were dropped as part of her plea agreement, 5th District Judge John Walton said during Wednesday’s hearing. The agreement also required that Hildebrandt not contest a prison sentence, and detailed specific abuse perpetrated by her — including that she “physically forced or coerced” Franke’s daughter to jump into a cactus “multiple times.”

Wednesday’s plea agreement contained the same details included in Franke’s agreement from earlier this month, and stated that Hildebrandt “inflicted and allowed another adult to inflict” serious physical injuries upon the children. The agreement detailed the “physical torture” of Franke’s son through repeated physical labor, and stated both children were denied food and water and suffered “severe emotional harm.”

Hildebrandt’s sentencing hearing is scheduled for Feb. 20, after the completion of a presentencing investigation, Walton said. Each of the four abuse counts carries a potential prison sentence of one to 15 years, the filing states, and penalties for the four counts will run consecutively.

In a statement after the hearing, Hildebrandt’s attorney Douglas Terry told reporters outside the St. George courthouse that his client chose to plead guilty so Franke’s two children would not have to testify, and that she made the decision to plead guilty before Franke did.

“She takes responsibility,” Terry said, according to video posted by a KSL-TV reporter. “It is her main concern at this point that these children can heal — both physically and emotionally.”

A receptionist told The Salt Lake Tribune on Wednesday that Terry would not give any further comments on the case.

Franke pleaded guilty earlier this month to four counts of aggravated child abuse. Her plea agreement also dismissed two of the original charges filed against her. Franke’s plea agreement required that she testify against Hildebrandt, and, in exchange, the Washington County attorney’s office would “remain neutral” for future hearings before the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole. Franke’s sentencing also is set for Feb. 20.

In a statement ahead of Franke’s plea, attorneys representing Franke argued Hildebrandt took advantage of Franke and “systematically isolated” her from her family — which resulted in Franke “being subjected to a distorted sense of morality, shaped by Ms. Hildebrandt’s influence,” according to Fox 13.

“Initially, Ms. Franke believed that Jodi Hildebrandt had the insight to offer a path to continual improvement,” the statement reads. “Ms. Hildebrandt took advantage of this quest and twisted it into something heinous.”

Who is Jodi Hildebrandt?

Until her Aug. 30 arrest, Hildebrandt ran an online self-improvement program, called ConneXions, with Franke out of Ivins. The program aimed to “help treat those lost and stranded in the darkness of distortion,” according to its website, through its curriculum of workbooks, DVDs and podcasts.

It is unclear how the two met, but Hildebrandt had been a licensed clinical mental health counselor since 2003, according to the Utah Division of Professional Licensing. She first acquired her associate clinical mental health counselor license in May of that year, and became a licensed clinical mental health counselor in July 2005, records show.

In 2010, a teen living with Hildebrandt reported to authorities that Hildebrandt had been forcing them to sleep outside, had not enrolled them in school and acted like the teen was “evil.” The teen said their parents had sent them to live with Hildebrandt because Hildebrandt was the teen’s aunt and a licensed therapist, and because the parents had been having problems with the teen. Hildebrandt was not charged in connection with the teen’s allegations.

On Sept. 19, Hildebrandt voluntarily surrendered her counseling license in light of the felony child abuse charges filed against her. The move essentially limited her ability to practice in any way until her child abuse case is adjudicated and a disciplinary investigation is conducted.

The surrender was not considered a disciplinary action, and Hildebrandt was able to consult with an attorney before doing so, a stipulation and order regarding the surrender states. The division has not issued a finding of unlawful conduct.

Hildebrandt’s limited license is listed on her Division of Professional Licensing page, under “agency and disciplinary action.”

In 2012, Hildebrandt was put on probation for 18 months after she allegedly discussed a patient with his leaders in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and at Brigham Young University without his permission. In those conversations, the patient said, Hildebrandt accused him of having serious problems, but never actually diagnosed him or spent enough time with him to do so.

But before she surrendered her license in September, Division of Professional Licensing records stated that Hildebrandt had received “no disciplinary actions.” That likely is because, according to Utah law, state websites with public access to professionals’ disciplinary records must remove a record after 10 years have passed, unless otherwise required by federal law.

Professionals may also petition that a disciplinary record be removed once five years have passed since a final disciplinary order was issued, the statute says.