Pastor: Suspect not daycare director
By William F. West
Monday, March 19, 2018
CURRITUCK — The pastor of a Moyock church said state officials were in error when they said a Currituck County man recently charged with possession of child pornography was both a church deacon and administrator of a church daycare center.
The Rev. Michael Williams, pastor at New Moyock United Methodist Church, said over the phone on Saturday that Richard Bell has been a long-time member of the church but is not a deacon or a daycare administrator there.
N.C. Department of Public Safety officials said in a press release Thursday that Bell, 73, was one of eight North Carolina men arrested and charged with possession of child pornography during Operation Southern Impact II, a multi-state law enforcement operation conducted by the National Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force Program.
A total of 76 suspects in eight states were arrested during Operation Southern Impact II, DPS said.
According to Currituck Sheriff Susan Johnson, Bell is charged with six counts of third-degree sexual exploitation of a minor and three counts of second-degree exploitation of a minor. He is being held at Currituck Detention Center in lieu of a $60,000 secured bond.
In the DPS press release, Bell was identified as both a church deacon and administrator of a church daycare program. SBI Special Agent in Charge Alan K. Flora of the SBI Computer Crimes Unit, who serves as the commander of the state’s ICAC Task Force, also said in an interview that Bell worked as a church daycare administrator.
Neither the DPS press release nor Flora identified the church Bell attends.
Even so, Williams on Saturday said he wanted to set the record straight about Bell’s role at New Moyock United Methodist.
“As a church, we take any allegation of abuse very seriously,” a statement by the church, released by Williams, reads. “Providing a safe environment for everyone at our church is our highest priority. We have safe sanctuaries guidelines in place to protect our children and vulnerable adults.”
Williams said Bell couldn’t have been a deacon at the church because deacon is an appointed position that requires a four-year degree, something Bell doesn’t have. Williams also pointed out the church doesn’t operate a daycare center.
Williams said Bell had been a church trustee who cared for the church's buildings and grounds until resigning on Friday. Williams said had Bell not stepped aside, he was ready to suspend him from his duties at the church.
The church’s statement said Bell never had direct access to any of the church's ministries for children, but the church will be cooperating with law enforcement as its investigation continues.
“This has been a difficult situation for everyone involved,” the church’s statement said. “We are keeping all involved in our prayers.”
Flora, the SBI Special Agent in Charge, also said his agency is not aware of any crimes committed against children from the church Bell attends.
In its press release, DPS said those arrested during the four-month Operation Southern Impact II were rounded up over two days. In addition to North Carolina, arrests were also made in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, South Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia.