The news of Zhao’s arrest appeared over the weekend through a YouTube news channel called Scarce. Zhao currently remains in custody.
Kotaku received documents from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Michigan (where Zhao is in custody), which claim he engaged in illicit online behaviour with a 15 year-old girl over the course of several months in 2016.
An FBI representative also told Kotaku that Zhao was arrested at the Detroit Metro airport, where he was allegedly on his way to meet the fan, who is nine years younger than Zhao.
Zhao’s lawyer points out that his client is presumed innocent until proven guilty, but did not comment further, beyond suggesting that ‘the federal complaint doesn’t give all the information’.
A court document alleges:
The defendant acted in a deliberate, sexually predatory manner toward a fan he knew to be a minor (14 to 15 years old at all times relevant hereto) over many months in a manner designed to ‘groom’ her to participate in the production of child pornography and further to participate in direct sexual activity with the defendant.
It was also noted that the YouTuber (with over 400,000 subscribers) is known for creating content with a younger audience in mind, suggesting this serves ‘as a possible entrée into communication with minors’.
The alleged victim (who can’t be named for legal reasons) contributed to Zhao’s YouTube channel in the past with graphics and voiceovers.
When the Detroit based fan was 14, her parents allegedly grew concerned about her Skype calls with Zhao, who is based in Washington state.
Her parents decided to monitor what she got up to online when she began wearing a locket with Zhao’s picture around her neck and started buying lingerie ‘she would not typically wear’.
Following this, the girl’s parents allegedly obtained an audio recording in which Zhao can be heard asking the girl to strip off. Zhao allegedly then gives advice to her on ‘grooming her genital area’.
In the same conversation, Zhao allegedly acknowledged that she was underage, and reportedly discussed meeting in person and having sexual relations over the year.
A May Skype call observed by an FBI agent, allegedly saw Zhao and the girl discuss oral sex. In the same call, he also allegedly talked her into showing her genitalia over webcam. Kotaku reports that, according to the agent, such a move meets the federal definition of child pornography.
Kotaku confirmed Scarce’s initial report with the Eastern Michigan district attorney’s office, but we’d all do well to remember that everyone – Zhao included – is indeed innocent until proven guilty.