Former Nickelodeon star Jared Drake Bell will serve two years’ probation in relation to his interactions with a minor girl whom he met online and who attended one of his shows when she was 15 years old, a judge decided Monday. He also has to perform 200 hours of community service. Bell’s sentencing comes several weeks after he pleaded guilty to two charges: fourth-degree attempted endangering of children, which is a felony, and disseminating matter harmful to juveniles, which is a misdemeanor, Cuyahoga County prosecutors previously said. While the judge handed down 12 months for the felony and six for the misdemeanor, he suspended the sentence; hence Bell will not spend time behind bars.
“I am now 19, and my life hasn’t been the same since I was 15,” the victim said during a statement to the court. “I think about these crimes every single day. I feel like I’m in a constant dark place. Sometimes I wish I could disappear so I can forget about what happened.”
“Every night, I dread going to sleep because I don’t want to see him in my nightmares,” the victim added, breaking into tears and shaking as she described her panic attacks.
Prosecutors stated that Bell’s attempted endangering of children charge stems from a concert held in Cleveland in 2017 and attended by this underage teen. In explaining the charges, a rep for the prosecutor’s office explained that Bell had “violated his duty of care” and caused a situation in which the minor was at risk of harm. The charge of disseminating material harmful to minors relates to Bell sending the teen “inappropriate social-media messages,” the spokesman said. Authorities previously stated that the girl had contacted Toronto police in October 2018. Toronto authorities then contacted Cleveland police, prompting an investigation.
During her statement, which was delivered via Zoom, the victim said that “everyone who knew me as a child knew that he was a hero to me. I would have done anything for him.” When she was 11, she learned that her aunt had a mutual friend with Bell. That led to the victim’s aunt taking her to meet the actor for the first time in 2014, when she was 12. “I adored him, and he instantly made me feel that he adored me right back.” The aunt took her to meet Bell and spend time with him “many times,” the victim said. “I confided in him about very personal things about myself, including my struggle with my mental health. I went to him for advice and for someone to lean on.”
In the summer of 2017, she messaged Bell, saying she was going to one of his concerts. “He replied by telling me that he couldn’t wait to see me. He also asked me, quote, ‘How old are you now?’ I told him 15. He then told me to, quote, ‘Hurry up …’”
Shortly thereafter, the victim said, Bell’s messages “became blatantly sexual.” She said they sent each other explicit photographs and alleged that they engaged in sexual contact on several occasions. (Bell did not plead guilty to charges involving allegations of sexual contact with a minor.)
Bell, who attended his sentencing via Zoom, shook his head slightly and raised his eyebrows at several points during the victim’s remarks. “Don’t look at me like that,” she said at one point.
When Bell’s lawyer spoke, asking the judge for a sentence of probation, he rejected the victim’s claims that there had been sexual contact with Bell.
“Not only am I saying that it did not happen, not only would Mr. Bell say that did not happen, but the evidence and the state of evidence in this case would suggest it did not happen,” said the lawyer, Ian Friedman. “And again, we all know that this prosecutor’s office would pursue child sex charges and go to great lengths and aggressively, as they should. We’ve seen it many times. If they felt that that was a provable case, I’m sure we would not be talking here today about an attempted child endangerment and disseminating matter harmful to a minor.”
A large part of Friedman’s argument in favor of a lighter sentence was that Bell had already suffered. “I would submit that there’s already a great penalty that has been paid by Mr. Bell that others would not face, merely because of his position,” he said, explaining that a Google search of Drake Bell returns 23.6 million hits dealing with Bell and his legal woes. “So this is something that’s going to tag him and follow him around. He’s already seen a loss of employment because of this, because people have wondered, What is this all about? My hope is that that will start up for him again when now they know what the reality of this actually is.”
Bell also made a statement to the court, saying, “Your Honor, I just want to say today that I accept this plea because my conduct was wrong. I’m sorry that the victim was harmed in any way, but that was obviously not my intention.”
“I have taken this matter very, very seriously. And again, I just want to apologize to her and anyone else who may have been affected by my actions,” Bell added.
Shortly before announcing Bell’s sentence, Judge Timothy McCormick said, “A grown man does not engage in inappropriate text messages to a teenager … Your position and celebrity status enabled you to nurture this relationship. You were able to gain access to this child. You were able to gain the trust of this child. I hope you truly are remorseful. I don’t know.”
Bell was the star of Drake & Josh with Josh Peck from 2004 to 2007. In August 2020, Bell’s ex-girlfriend Melissa Lingafelt made allegations of physical and verbal abuse against him. Bell claimed to People that he had “never abused” Lingafelt, who performs music under the name Jimi Ono.
Lingafelt, who was involved with Bell from 2006 to 2009, claimed in a TikTok video in which she alleged the abuse, “This is my truth. I hope this message reaches young girls and that no one has to go through what I did. #2020survivor.”