Los Angeles Police arrested 15-year-old YouTuber Steven Fernandez last month on suspicion that he attempted to exploit a 12-year-old girl, with the charges only coming to light this week.
Fernandez allegedly approached the 12-year-old victim on Ventura Boulevard on Nov. 12. He asked her to enter a car, driven by his 22-year-old manager Jose Barajas. According to police, Fernandez promised to introduce the girl to celebrities and feature her on a fake MTV show in exchange for sexual acts performed on Fernandez, Barajar, and a fellow skateboarder, 27-year-old Keelan Dadd. Los Angeles Police arrested Barajar and Fernandez Nov. 17, with Dadd turning himself in Dec 3. Since the arrest, Fernandez has continued to post to his 1 million Instagram followers.
Los Angeles Police issued a statement on the investigation Dec. 17 in hopes of finding more potential victims.
“Fernandez and his buddies used his fame and brand to sexually exploit the very girls who made the men rich and famous,” wrote Detective Ninette Toosbuy of the West Valley Detective Division. “We’re taking exceptional measures to find additional victims because the fate of some young lives may be at stake.”
In recent years YouTube has faced a rash of accusations and issues dealing with sexual misconduct, often with male YouTubers who’ve used their fame to allegedly manipulate female fans. Most cases have fallen shy of police involvement. In this case, police suspect the trio drove around soliciting other victims, and have released their information in hopes that other potential victims come forward. Searching for that kind of information about a social media celebrity presents its own set of challenges for police.
“Although social media has been around for quite a while now, and social media is very much a part of what we do for our investigations for sex crimes, it is not often that we deal with it in the terms of somebody with celebrity status,” Det. Toosbuy told the Daily Dot. “Social media plays a role in many of our investigations because many of our victims are younger and it’s a primary way they communicate. But in this case, when we’re dealing with somebody who’s somewhat famous, it’s a whole different scale. We’re dealing with communications of people we don’t even know who they are.”
Fans have begun reacting on social media to the accusations, with some comparing Fernandez to the outrage over Sam Pepper and Carter Reynolds. Fernandez posted to Twitter last on Wednesday, asking fans not to give up on him.
If steven fernandez doesn't get the same amount of hate as carter reynolds/sam pepper did then I'm….
— ♡ (@gigirichie) December 17, 2015
Please don't ever give up on me
— Lil Cloud Aka Steve (@imlilcloud) December 17, 2015
Toosbuy said they are waiting for more widespread media coverage to see if more victims come forward. As of now, they have one other potential victim, but calls it too premature to officially declare her one.
Fernandez has built his brand on social media on pickup tricks, with his most recent video nine months ago a compilation of him hitting on unsuspecting girls on the street.
As a minor, Fernandez was released to his mother with an ankle monitor until his court date. Barajas and Dadd posted their $475,000 and $200,000 bail, respectively.
A statement released by Fernandez’s lawyer, Ryan D’Ambrosio, claims Fernandez, also a minor, is himself a victim of the two adults involved. It reads in part: “Once the investigation is complete, I think evidence will show that Steven’s celebrity status was preyed on by the adults who were arrested in this matter. We won’t be making further statements until the investigation is complete.”
Anyone with information about the crime can contact the Los Angeles police at (877) 527-3247.