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Convicted molester is jailed again

(ran NS, S editions of Tampa Bay and State)

A convicted child molester who had been placed on probation is behind bars again on multiple charges after police investigated complaints involving a 7-year-old Clearwater boy he befriended.

Bernard Bell, 41, of 1431 Kings Highway in Clearwater, was arrested Feb. 18 and charged with three counts of lewd and lascivious acts on a child younger than 11, police said.

After more investigation this week, Clearwater police Detective Jim Houck added five charges against Bell. He was charged Friday with two counts of capital sexual battery and three more counts of committing lewd and lascivious acts on a child younger than 11.

Bell, who listed his occupation as lawn care, was being held at the Pinellas County Jail in lieu of $410,000 bail.

All eight charges involve the same 7-year-old. Houck said Bell has been convicted of similar charges in Hawaii and Pinellas County.

Florida Department of Law Enforcement records show Bell was convicted of two counts of sex offenses against a child younger than 16 in Pinellas in 1988. He was sentenced to seven years probation.

Bell was arrested Feb. 18 after Clearwater Officer Joseph Young investigated a complaint from a Clearwater woman. She said her 7-year-old son had been hugged, kissed and fondled by a man who had befriended him. Houck identified the man as Bell.

"His history is that he ingratiates himself with children in the neighborhood," Houck said. "He gives them gifts and does things like take them swimming. My concern is that there may be other victims in that area."

The 7-year-old boy lives in a neighborhood south of Lakeview Avenue and between Fort Harrison and Missouri avenues. Bell gave money to the boy and bought him toys and clothing.

According to arrest affidavits, Bell is accused of molesting the boy at different times during the past year. He is charged with having anal and oral sex with the boy at Norton Park and committing lewd acts on the boy in a secluded area behind a church in the neighborhood.

Detective Houck is continuing his investigation. Anyone with information can call him at 462-6262.

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