Man pleads innocent to felony charge of attempting to lure child for sex
ADDISON COUNTY — A Peacham man has pleaded innocent to a felony charge of attempting to lure a child for the purpose of having sex. That charge stems from an alleged online courtship staged by an Addison County relative of the man who told authorities she wanted to expose his behavior.
Russell Bell, 44, was arraigned on Jan. 15 in Caledonia County Superior Court’s criminal division on a misdemeanor charge of dissemination of indecent material to a minor and the felony attempted luring charge. Bell was released on conditions following his plea, including that he not contact or in any way harass the juvenile victim.
Police said the victim, a 14-year-old girl, set up a fake Facebook account last November and extended a “friend” request to Bell, which he accepted.
The victim told authorities she concocted the ruse in an effort to “have proof that (Bell) was being sexually inappropriate with minors, as she had previously reported,” according to a court affidavit submitted by Vermont State Police Trooper Adria C. Pickin, lead investigator in the case.
Pickin said she subsequently learned through Caledonia County Deputy State’s Attorney Maria Byford that Bell was under investigation for a separate, sex-related allegation involving sexually explicit material and an underage girl.
The Addison County victim, according to court documents, loaded a false name and a stranger’s photo onto her fake Facebook page. She assigned an age of “14” to the phony profile, according to police. Although the Facebook account was fake, she truly is a minor.
Bell allegedly used Facebook Messenger to send the Addison County girl sexually explicit images of himself, according to court records.
Bell eventually invited the victim, though the fake Facebook account, to have sex with him at various locations in his area, according to court records.
The victim ultimately ceded control of the Facebook account to state police and an investigator with the Vermont Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, according to Pickin’s affidavit. Investigators — purporting to be the 14-year-old girl in profile — continued a converse with Bell via Facebook.
“(The investigator) repeatedly implies that she is too young for Bell and indicates she is 14 years old, but Bell essentially implies that it is fine as long as she didn’t tell anyone,” the affidavit reads.
Bell allegedly sent sexually explicit images of male genitalia and pornographic videos via the Facebook page to the investigators, whom he believed to be a 14-year-old girl, according to court records.
Police said Bell learned from a third party that he might be under investigation, whereupon he deleted his own Facebook account and created a new one, according to court records.
State police located Bell in Peacham on Jan. 15 and took him into custody, according to the affidavit.
When questioned, Bell allegedly told police he believed his Facebook account had been hacked, but later acknowledged that “although he didn’t remember the person’s name, he did have conversations with a female which he believed to be of age and their conversations might have been of a sexual nature and that it was a mistake,” according to Pickin’s affidavit.
Bell faces a prison term of up to one year and/or a fine of up to $1,000 if convicted on the misdemeanor “indecent material” charge. He faces up to five years in jail and/or a fine of up to $10,000 if convicted on the felony attempted luring charge, according to state statutes.
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