Drake Bell, the former star of the popular Nickelodeon show Drake & Josh, was sentenced in Cleveland on Monday to two years' probation on child endangerment charges relating to a girl he met online. She accused him of sexual contact after attending his concert when she was 15.
Jared "Drake" Bell, 35, of West Hollywood, California, pleaded guilty last month via Zoom to felony attempted child endangerment and a misdemeanour charge of disseminating matter harmful to juveniles.
Cuyahoga County Judge Timothy McCormick is allowing Bell to serve probation and 200 hours of community service in California.
Bell, via Zoom, spoke briefly before sentencing.
“I accept this plea because my conduct was wrong,” he said. “I'm sorry the victim was harmed. It was not my intention.”
The victim, aged 19 now, spoke at length about the damage Bell has done to her life, saying he began grooming her when she was 12. She said she initially felt loved and protected by him during online chats and that his messages changed after she turned 15. She said his remarks made her feel uncomfortable, but she felt trapped because she “idolised” Bell.
“I was definitely one of his biggest fans,” said the woman, who allowed her face to appear on Zoom. “I would have done anything for him."
The Associated Press does not identify people who say they suffered sexual abuse unless they choose to come forward publicly.
The woman said she and Bell exchanged explicit photos online. She also called Bell a “paedophile” and a “coward.”
Bell's lawyer, Ian Friedman, disputed those claims on Monday. He said there were no explicit photos or sexual contact between Bell and the victim, and the inappropriate conduct that did occur was reflected in the charges Bell pleaded to in June. Friedman did not detail the inappropriate conduct Bell was acknowledging.
Friedman said the victim attended nine of Bell's concerts after the one in Cleveland. The woman responded by holding up three fingers.
“There is already a greater penalty paid by Mr Bell that others would not face because of his position,” Friedman said.
Authorities have said the victim contacted Toronto police in October 2018. Toronto authorities then forwarded its findings to Cleveland police, prompting an investigation.
The attempted endangering children charge relates to the concert where Bell “violated his duty of care” and created a risk of harm to the victim, Cuyahoga County Prosecutor's Office spokesman Tyler Sinclair said previously.
Sinclair said Bell and the girl had “developed a relationship” online several years prior to the concert. The disseminating harmful material charge concerns Bell having sent the girl “inappropriate social media messages,” Sinclair said.
Before delivering Bell’s sentence, McCormick said he heard “a lot of serious and disturbing allegations” during Monday’s hearing, but added that he “can’t lose focus on what was pled to.”
“The fact of the matter is your position and celebrity status let you nurture this relationship,” McCormick said. “You were able to gain access to this child.”
Bell, also a singer, began acting as a child, but was catapulted to stardom as a teen with Nickelodeon’s The Amanda Show and later Drake & Josh, which debuted on the channel in January 2004. The final episode aired in September 2007. Bell and co-star Josh Peck also starred in two Drake & Josh movies.