Bell enters guilty plea in Charles Co. abuse case

WASHINGTON — A former Charles County teaching assistant and track coach on Friday entered guilty pleas to 27 counts in connection with the sexual abuse and exploitation of dozens of children spanning two years.

As part of a plea deal with prosecutors, Carlos Bell will face no more than 190 years in prison and dozens of charges will be dropped, said Tony Covington, the county’s state’s attorney.

Bell agreed to plead guilty to charges including sex offenses, child abuse, assault, solicitation of a minor, filming child pornography and attempted transmission of HIV.

Bell, 30, of Waldorf, had been set to go on trial Monday to face more than 200 charges. Police identified 42 victims who ranged in age from 11 to 17.

He would record those attacks over a nearly two-year period between May 2015 and June 2017. Some of the assaults took place on school grounds, others at his home, according to court records.

Sheriff Troy Berry called it one of the most horrendous crimes he’d seen in his 25-years working in the county.

“Carlos Bell was in a position of trust,” Berry said. “And he misused that to violate the most vulnerable people in our community, our children.”

Bell’s attorney declined to comment before sentencing, which is set for March. Bell also faces federal child pornography charges and his next appearance in federal court is set for later this month.

Covington said he expected Bell to reach a plea deal with federal prosecutors as well.

The state’s attorney said the deal allows Bell’s young victims to avoid the trauma of testifying in open court and to maintain their privacy. The terms also ensure that Bell will spend the rest of his life behind bars.

Parents of the victims understand and supported the plea deal, Covington said.

Bell first came onto the radar of Charles County investigators in December 2016 when parents called to report suspicious messages on their teen’s cellphone. Based on those messages, detectives searched Bell’s computers and seized his cellphones. The evidence gathered from that search warrant would eventually go to the Maryland State Police where it sat waiting for several months before it was analyzed and the results sent back to local investigators.

In the meantime, Bell would buy more electronic devices even though he knew he was under investigation, Covington said.

He would victimize another eight children from December until his June arrest.

And despite the scope and duration of the abuse, no other children ever came forward to report any suspicious behavior, Covington said.

And no evidence has surfaced that any school staff members knew about or reported any suspicious or questionable behavior by Bell, said Superintendent Kimberly Hill.

Bell had a clean record and underwent two routine background checks that included fingerprinting, Hill said previously.

Since his arrest, the school system has provided new training to all school staff — not just teachers and principals — on how to spot the signs of a predator. Curriculum was reviewed for all age levels to help students recognize when “something may not be just right,” Hill said.

Bell was an instructional assistant at Benjamin Stoddert Middle School before he was removed in December. The school system fired him the next month. Bell also served as the head indoor track coach at La Plata High School, and previously worked as an aide at J.P. Ryon Elementary School. He was hired in the fall of 2014.

Cloherty contributed to this report from La Plata, Maryland. 

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