LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. - A British producer who has created some of YouTube's most popular video channels featuring tween girls has been arrested in Central Florida for allegedly molesting one of his young actresses.
Shortly before Ian Dean Rylett allegedly ordered the 15-year-old to undress in front of him and touched her breasts, prosecutors claim Rylett required the teen and her mother to sign a talent contract in which they agreed there could be "physical or bodily contact, potentially of an intimate nature".
According to prosecutors, the contract obligated the teen to "remove any items of clothing as directed by management."
"No one can be legally bound by an agreement that involves engaging a child in a sex act. It is a crime," said Orange-Osceola State Attorney Aramis Ayala. "Based on the facts and circumstances here, I have very real concerns that there are additional victims."
Rylett, 55, runs a series of wildly popular YouTube channels including "Seven Super Girls" and "Seven Awesome Kids".
The United Kingdom citizen has pleaded not guilty to lewd and lascivious molestation, a second-degree felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison.
Rylett's attorney, Matthew Ferry, did not respond to several phone calls and emails from News 6 seeking comment.
YouTube channels have millions of subscribers, billions of views
In 2008, Rylett and the families of several young children created the popular YouTube channel "Seven Awesome Kids."
The channel, which has nearly three million subscribers, features videos of children and young teens performing skits in costumes, going on vacation, or doing routine activities around their homes.
Over the past decade, at least six spinoff channels were created including "Seven Perfect Angels" and the flagship "Seven Super Girls."
Known collectively as the SAK Channels, more than 17 million YouTube users subscribe to the videos, helping to generate more than 10 billion total video views.
Rylett's UK-based company, Starcast Productions LTD, has operated the channels for at least the past five years, court records indicate.
The young actresses work as independent contractors for Rylett, according to prosecutors, with each of the girls assigned a day of the week to release a new video.
"Generally the girls are at home, wherever they live around the country or in the UK, producing their own content and putting it on the channel," Assistant State Attorney Jenny Rossman said during a recent court hearing. "But Mr. Rylett has final say over the content."
Several times a year Rylett travels to Central Florida and other parts of the United States to produce videos of all the girls together, according to prosecutors.
During those visits, "meet and greet" events are held so fans of the SAK Channels can see the actresses in person and get autographs from the young internet celebrities, videos posted on the YouTube channel show.
Prior to a meet-up event at the Lake Buena Vista Hilton near Disney Springs last month, Rylett allegedly molested a young actress he had just hired to appear on his YouTube channels, prosecutors said.
Talent contract allowed "intimate" bodily contact, prosecutors claim
On August 11, a 15-year-old girl said she signed a contract with Rylett to be part of the "Seven Super Girls" team.
Five days later, the teen claims Rylett called her into his hotel room and directed her to take her shirt off to practice wrapping her breasts down with an elastic bandage, according to an arrest affidavit.
Prosecutors allege that Rylett wanted the teen's chest to look smaller so she would appear younger in the videos.
At first, the teen refused to take off her shirt. However, when Rylett allegedly threatened to remove it by force, the teen told detectives she complied with the producer's request.
As Rylett repeatedly wrapped the elastic bandage around the teen's bare chest, she claims he cupped, poked and rubbed her breasts.
According to the arrest affidavit, Rylett then ordered the teen to remove her panties and put on a bikini.
When the teen told Rylett she was uncomfortable doing so, she claims Rylett "grabbed her panties and forcefully pulled them down and to the side," the arrest affidavit states.
After Rylett photographed the teen wearing bikinis, which she claims were two sizes too small, the producer allegedly ordered the actress to get dressed in front of him.
"No, I'm not comfortable doing that," the teen reportedly told him.
According to the alleged victim, Rylett threatened to use the talent contract to fine her if she did not comply with his demand.
"Fine, fine me then," the teen told Rylett before going into the bathroom to change, according to the arrest affidavit.
When detectives with the Orange County Sheriff's Office later obtained a warrant to search Rylett's computer, they reportedly found that talent contract, which a prosecutor read aloud during a recent court hearing.
"Talent and Parent understand and agree that Talent's body proportions are not optimal," the contract reportedly stated. "Talent and Parent understand and agree that certain activities, practices, procedures, shoots or projects will involve talent being seen in a state of undress and it is likely there will be physical or bodily contact, potentially of an intimate nature."
Among those activities was "chest-binding", according to prosecutors.
"Talent and Parent hereby agree and consent without limitation, objection or question to Talent being subject to physical or bodily contact of any type on any part or parts of the body, for any reason or any purpose, and Talent shall remove any items of clothing as directed by management," the contract stated, according to prosecutors.
Vicki Foley, a Central Florida talent agent who has operated her own agency for nearly 30 years, tells News 6 she has never seen a contract or release similar to the one prosecutors described.
"It's not standard. It's not normal. It's very unusual to find a contract that reads like that," said Foley.
The talent agent also said the practice of chest-binding is also not common in the modeling and acting industries.
"A parent or guardian should be on site with their child at all times," Foley said. "That includes on set, during filming, (during) makeup, hair and wardrobe. Even walking them to the bathroom if they need a break."
Prosecutors insist the contract found on Rylett's computer is illegal and unenforceable.
"It's essentially a contract that gave Mr. Rylett complete, unfettered access to the 15-year-old's body for purposes of her role as a 'Seven Super Girls' video talent," Rossman told a judge.
Rylett taken for mental evaluation after suicide threat, prosecutors say
After the teen left Rylett's hotel room, she disclosed the alleged molestation incident to another parent before telling her mother, according to prosecutors.
"Prior to police being called, some of the other parents confronted (Rylett) about the contract that he signed, which led him to say that he wanted to jump off his balcony," Rossman told the judge during a court hearing. "When police responded they spoke to him about his expression of wanting to harm himself and throw himself off the balcony at the hotel."
Those law enforcement officers later took Rylett into custody under Florida's Baker Act for an involuntary mental health examination, prosecutors said.
The following day, court records show Rylett was discharged from Central Florida Behavioral Hospital and taken into custody by the Orange County Sheriff's Office.
Rylett denies such allegations, according to his attorney.
Letters sent to the judge from Rylett’s family members and friends indicated he has not previously suffered from mental health issues.
“Ian (Rylett) is extremely hard-working, conscientious, and is doing his best to make the world a better place through encouraging everyone else to work the way he does,” wrote Jennie Rigg, the mother of Rylett’s 15-year-old daughter. “He is a loving father and a great employer.”
Rylett's attorney claims alleged victim may have "financial" motivation
During an August 28 court hearing in which Rylett asked a judge to release him from jail on bond, the producer's attorney indicated the alleged victim may be trying to profit from the situation.
"I think the evidence is going to show that there are strong motivations behind this girl bringing these allegations against Mr. Rylett for financial reasons," Ferry told the judge.
Ferry did not indicate in court what that evidence might be, and he did not return phone calls and emails from News 6 seeking comment.
Rylett earned $1 million from his company last year and owns a $90,000 Porsche Cayenne, according to a financial affidavit submitted by the producer and statements Rylett made in court.
Rylett testified that the net value of his company at the time of his arrest was about $1 million.
"The money comes from ads that are on the channel on YouTube, as well as sponsorships that the girls get," Rossman told the judge as she sought a high bond amount to deter Rylett from fleeing before trial. "It's an advertisement relationship between the videos and the channels.”
In one of the videos posted on 'Seven Super Girls', the actresses can be seen enjoying rides at Walt Disney World.
"We'd like to thank our advertiser Disney for making this trip happen," one of the girls said on camera as the group stood in front of the Tree of Life at Disney's Animal Kingdom theme park.
Upon learning of Rylett's arrest, Disney officials instructed Starcast Productions LTD. to remove the video from its social media channels. That video no longer appears on Disney's social media channels.
Rylett's many other videos remain posted on his YouTube channels. However, after his arrest YouTube temporarily blocked the videos from earning advertising revenue and the company could remove his channels from their video-sharing platform if Rylett is convicted or pleads guilty to a crime.
"We take safety on YouTube very seriously," a YouTube spokesperson told News 6 in an emailed statement. "We work closely with leading child safety organizations and others in our industry to protect young people. When we’re made aware of serious allegations of this nature we take action, which may include suspending monetization, or, upon conclusion of an investigation, terminating the channel."
Although the target audience of Rylett's YouTube channels appears to be children and young teens, some question whether Rylett also profits from adult subscribers.
"These videos probably attract men who view them for lewd reasons," said Rossman.
Last year, Central Florida comedian Daniel Tosh suggested on his Comedy Central TV show "Tosh.O" that Rylett's YouTube channels might be popular with pedophiles.
After the TV segment aired, some of the videos highlighted on the comedy show were removed from YouTube, including one showing a young girl licking whipped cream and another featuring a girl who was duct taped to a bed.
Rylett free on $450K bond, surrendered passport
As Rylett awaits his trial, currently scheduled for December, the millionaire been released from the Orange County Jail on a $450,000 bond.
Rylett, who is visiting the United States on a 90-day travel visa, was ordered to surrender his passport and must remain in this country. As the expiration date of the visa approaches, the judge indicated a court hearing will be held to address the matter.
Rylett's attorney has not indicated where the producer is living as he awaits trial.
Under the terms of his pre-trial release, Rylett cannot have contact with children under 18 years of age other than his own daughter.
Prosecutors are urging any other potential victims or witnesses to report what they know about Rylett.
"If anyone has any information related to this criminal activity, please contact your law enforcement agency immediately," said Ayala.
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