Actor and musician Drake Bell - also known as Drake Campana - has pleaded guilty to charges of child endangerment and disseminating material harmful to children in court this week. The Drake & Josh star stands accused of forming a relationship with a 15-year-old girl who he met online and who later, in 2017, attended one of his concerts in Cleveland, Ohio. He now faces up to two years in prison.
Bell initially pleaded not guilty to the charges, but has now entered into a plea deal, through a virtual court hearing on Wednesday. He is due to be sentenced on 12 July and if he is not issued with jail time, may walk away with probation.
As reported by NBC affiliate KXAN, the alleged incident occurred on 1 December 2017, and involved Bell partaking in an inappropriate conversation (which at times was sexual in nature) with the underage girl. A Cleveland Police Department investigation also found that Bell had sent the minor inappropriate messages on social media in the months leading up to the show, prosecutors said.
According a report from PEOPLE, a the judge said of the Bell's decision to plead guilty, "My understanding is there's been a plea agreement reached where the defendant will plead guilty to count one attempted endangering children, a felony in the fourth degree [and] plead guilty to count two: disseminating matter harmful to juveniles, a misdemeanour the first degree,"
The judge also explained to Bell that if does serve time in jail, upon his release his activities may still be restricted for up to three years.
Bell's lawyer, Ian Friedman, told PEOPLE, "All questions about this case will be answered at sentencing, including why Mr. Bell chose to enter his plea."
Drake is most known for his leading role in the Nickelodeon sitcom Drake & Josh, in which he starred opposite Josh Peck as a pair of stepbrothers forced to live together, despite having vastly different personalities and interests. The popular show ran for four seasons.
In the years following, Bell embarked on a music career, changed his name to Drake Campana (meaning Bell in Spanish) and released several albums under his pseudonym. He was also recently accused of physical and verbal abuse by his ex-girlfriend, Melissa Lingafelt (stage name Jimi Ono), in a series of TikTok videos.
"When I started dating Drake I was 16, I was homeschooled, I moved in with him, I was singing," Melissa said in one of the videos. "It wasn’t until about a year when the verbal abuse started. When I say 'verbal abuse', I mean imagine the worst type of verbal abuse you could ever imagine, and that was what I got."
She then described how the abuse became physical, "It then turned into physical: hitting, throwing, everything. At the pinnacle of it, he [dragged] me down the stairs of our house in Los Feliz. My face hit every step on the way down. I have photos of this. I don’t even want to get into the underage girls thing. I mean, I will, but I’m scared."
Bell responded to the allegations saying, "I never abused my ex-girlfriend or did so many of the other things Melissa falsely claimed on her TikTok video. As our relationship ended – more than a decade ago – we, unfortunately, both called each other terrible names, as often happens when couples are breaking up. But that is it."
He also added that he offered Lingafelt financial support recently, "I do not know if today’s behaviour is some kind of misguided quest for more money or attention. But I cannot and will not allow these offensive and defamatory allegations to go unchallenged."
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