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The former Nickelodeon star, who was accused of sexual contact and grooming an underage fan, broke his silence about the charges in an Instagram video posted Thursday. Bell, whose full name is Jared Drake Bell, was sentenced to two years of probation and 200 hours of community service in Cleveland court in July.
"Most of the news you've heard recently is entirely false and wrong," Bell said in the clip. "I feel that you deserve, and I owe you, an explanation."
"I know that this has moved very quickly for you, but for me, it's been a three-year, thorough investigation into every false claim that has been made. And, it's not me telling you that the claims are false, but the state of Ohio has proven the claims to be false. If these claims were remotely true, my situation would be very different. I would not be here at home with my wife and my son."
In June, the "Drake and Josh" actor was charged with disseminating harmful matter to juveniles and attempted child endangerment. In court, the victim, now 19, said Bell exchanged explicit photos online and engaged in sexual conduct with her on several occasions, including at a 2017 concert venue in Cleveland and at a hotel.
In the video, Bell acknowledged his interactions were "reckless and irresponsible," but he claimed he was "unaware" of her age and only communicated with her via text messages — without any physical contact.
USA TODAY reached out to his attorney and Cuyahoga County Prosecutor's Office for comment.
"I responded to a fan whose age I didn't know yet when i became aware of their age, all conversation and communication stopped," he said. "This individual continued to come to shows and pay for meet and greets, all while I was unaware that this was the same person I was communicating with online, and that's what I plead guilty to."
The victim, who is now 19, 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 became “blatantly sexual” after she turned 15. She said his remarks made her feel uncomfortable, but she felt trapped because she “idolized” Bell.
Bell’s attorney, Ian Friedman, disputed those claims at the time. He said there were no explicit photos or sexual contact between Bell and the victim and the inappropriate conduct that did occur were reflected in the charges Bell pleaded to last month. Friedman did not detail the inappropriate conduct Bell was acknowledging.
"I want to make clear there were no sexual images, nothing physical between me and this individual," Bell said, adding that he wasn't charged with doing "anything physical" or "disseminating any photographs."
In July, Bell pleaded guilty last month and was sentenced to serve probation and 200 hours of community service in California.
“I accept this plea because my conduct was wrong,” Bell said via Zoom at the time. “I’m sorry the victim was harmed. It was not my intention.”
Bell also said in the video he decided to take the plea deal, because "I felt that this was the best way to get this over quickly, and for everyone involved to be able to move on and for me to get back to doing what I love, and that is making music for you."
In the video, Bell also clarified that he never officially changed his name to Drake Campana, which is the handle that he now uses on social media.
"I didn't change my name. Although I would love to, I've never moved to Mexico, I've never been a resident or a citizen of Mexico. I don't have a Mexican passport. I didn't get arrested, I didn't go to jail."
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Authorities 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 spokesperson Tyler Sinclair said previously.
Bell and the girl had “developed a relationship” online several years prior to the concert, Sinclair said. The disseminating harmful material charge concerns Bell having sent the girl “inappropriate social media messages,” Sinclair said.
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 Beck also starred in two "Drake & Josh" movies.
Contributing: Mark Gillispie, Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Drake Bell explains child endangerment conviction, 'false' claims