“A grown man does not engage in inappropriate text messages to a teenager,” McCormick said. “There’s a reason why a 14- or 15-year-old does not have the right to drive, does not have the right to vote, does not have the right to serve in the armed forces. They don’t have the emotional or mental maturity to properly gauge their conduct. So you did take advantage.”
Tyler Sinclair, a spokesman for the Cuyahoga County prosecutor, previously told the Associated Press that Bell had “developed a relationship” online with the girl years before the concert. The investigation was triggered by a complaint she filed with Canadian police in 2018.
In a statement delivered over Zoom during the sentencing, the victim, now 19, said she had grown up a fan of Bell’s and first met him when she was 12 through a mutual friend of her aunt’s. He “instantly made me feel like he adored me right back,” she said, alleging that he groomed her for years afterward. The victim stated that she confided in Bell about her mental health struggles and went to him for boy advice, and that the nature of their communication became sexual once she told him she was 15.
The victim said the explicit nature of their messages and exchanged photographs made her feel uncomfortable at times, but that she “felt trapped and stuck because I still idolized him.” She accused Bell of forcing her to perform oral sex on him the night of the December 2017 concert at Cleveland’s Odeon Concert Club, and again while they were alone in his hotel room the next day.
“He was such a huge part of my childhood, and in return he ruined my life,” she said. “Back when I confronted him, he told me he didn’t want me to hate him. I don’t hate him, I loathe him.”
Bell was arrested in early June and initially pleaded not guilty. He went on to plead guilty to the felony and misdemeanor charges in Cuyahoga County court later that month. During the sentencing, Bell’s attorney, Ian Friedman, said his client “accepted responsibility” for causing the victim pain but denied that Bell had engaged in any sexual misconduct after she told him she was 15.
“Not only am I saying it did not happen, not only would Mr. Bell say it did not happen, but the evidence in this case would suggest it did not happen,” Friedman said. “We all know this prosecutor’s office would pursue child sex charges … if they felt that was a provable case. I’m sure we would not be talking about attempted child endangerment and disseminating matter harmful to a minor.”
Bell spoke briefly after Friedman, stating that he was “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.”
After launching his career in the early 1990s, Bell found fame playing characters such as Totally Kyle in “The Amanda Show,” the sketch comedy series starring Amanda Bynes that aired from 1999 to 2002, and a lead character in the sitcom “Drake and Josh,” appearing alongside Josh Peck from 2004 to 2007. Both Nickelodeon shows were created by Dan Schneider, the prolific showrunner of children’s television who parted ways with the network in 2018 amid complaints about his workplace behavior.
While delivering Monday’s sentence, McCormick addressed Friedman’s concerns over how Bell’s career would be impacted by the publicity surrounding the legal proceedings.
“The fact of the matter is, your position and celebrity status enabled you to nurture this relationship,” McCormick said. “You were able to gain access to this child. You were able to gain the trust of this child. So it’s a [double]-edged sword, your position. I hope you are truly remorseful.”