A pair of twin brothers with a popular YouTube channel featuring pranks on unsuspecting people pleaded guilty Wednesday to misdemeanor false imprisonment and reporting false emergencies in connection with staging fake bank robberies in Irvine that caused an innocent Uber driver to be held at gunpoint by police, officials said.
Irvine residents Alan and Alex Stokes, both 23, were each charged with one felony count of false imprisonment with violence, menace, fraud, or deceit and two misdemeanor counts of falsely reporting an emergency in connection with pranks that occurred in October 2019, the Orange County District Attorney’s Office announced in a news release Wednesday.
The brothers allegedly made two attempts to film a bogus bank robbery on Oct. 15, 2019, officials said.
According to prosecutors, the twin brothers were dressed in all black, wore ski masks and carried duffle bags stuffed with cash, pretending they had robbed a bank as their videographer filmed it. The brothers then ordered an Uber, officials said.
The driver of that Uber, unaware of the prank, refused to drive them, prompting a bystander who saw the events unfolding to call police. The bystander had thought that the men had just robbed a bank and were attempting to carjack the Uber driver, prosecutors said.
Irvine police responded and ordered the Uber driver out of his car at gunpoint, but he was released after the officers determined he wasn’t involved. Police issued a warning to the Stokes brothers about the dangerousness of their conduct, but also let them go, the D.A.’s office said.
Four hours later, the brothers executed the same hoax on the campus of UC Irvine, and police fielded emergency calls regarding a bank robbery, prosecutors said.
“These crimes could have easily resulted in someone being seriously hurt or killed,” Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer said in a statement. “An active bank robbery is not a casual police response and these police officers were literally risking their lives to help people they believed were in danger.”
On Oct. 20, five days after their fake robberies, the pair uploaded a video to their YouTube channel in which they’re seen approaching people and asking them suspicious questions or showing them wads of cash, prompting confrontations with police, KTLA reported. The video has since been taken down.
“It is irresponsible and reckless that these two individuals cared more about increasing their number of followers on the internet than the safety of those police officers or the safety of the innocent Uber driver who was ordered out of his car at gunpoint,” Spitzer continued.
The Stokes brothers each face up to five years in jail, if convicted as charged.
The D.A.’s office said the guilty pleas were in exchange for a judge reducing the felony false imprisonment charge to a misdemeanor, a move prosecutors objected.
The brothers were each sentenced to 160 hours of community service, one year of formal probation and ordered to pay restitution. The judge also ordered the twins to stay away from UC Irvine and to stop making videos that mimic criminal behavior.