Mother Accused Of Covering Up Family Sexual Abuse Pleads Not Guilty

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ATHENS, Ohio (WOUB) — An Athens woman accused of trying to hinder investigations into alleged sexual abuse of her children pleaded not guilty to several felony charges Wednesday.

Deborah Bellar
Deborah Bellar arraigned in court on May 19, 2021. [Athens Co. Prosecutors Office]
Deborah Bellar, 49, was placed under a $1 million bond. She was arrested Tuesday after indictments were issued against her, her husband and two of her sons.

The seven-page indictment against Bellar details multiple instances in which she allegedly discouraged several of her children from cooperating with investigators looking into accusations against the sons.

One son, Josiah, 24, faces three counts of rape involving two of his sisters. Josiah is in prison serving time for several felonies, including theft and robbery.

Another son, Jonathan, 26, faces a charge of gross sexual imposition involving one of the sisters Josiah is accused of raping. Jonathan, who also spent time in prison for a robbery and other related charges, was arrested Wednesday and is scheduled for arraignment Thursday.

Deborah’s husband, Robert, 54, is also accused of trying to cover up the alleged sexual abuse.

The investigation began after Serah Bellar, one of the couple’s 18 biological children, surfaced last month after disappearing for a year. In a Facebook post under the pseudonym Delilah Rose Price, Serah explained why she ran away and hid from her family. She detailed a long pattern of alleged sexual abuse and other mistreatment.

The Athens County Prosecutor’s Office launched an investigation, during which investigators retrieved copies of phone conversations and email exchanges that Deborah, Robert and one of their daughters had with Josiah and two other sons who are in prison. Investigators also retrieved copies of text messages between Deborah and one of her daughters.

According to the indictment, in one email message to Josiah, Deborah wrote: “Also very important … you are going to get mail from an agency with some very serious allegations … our attorney says do not … I repeat … do not answer them!!” The message ends with: “We all know what is being said isn’t true and we’re doing all we can on this end so please just do what I ask … all of our lives as we know it depend on it.”

In a text message to one of her daughters two days after Serah’s April 26 Facebook post, according to the indictment, Deborah wrote: “… no one talks anywhere on anything to anybody even in person …. Period. Thank you ???????? the issue is going to be all the attention this is getting ….. no one talks! You plead the 5th (your constitutional right) and shut up until you have an attorney.”

During Deborah’s arraignment Wednesday, Chief Assistant Prosecutor Liz Pepper said Bellar has a history of being uncooperative with investigators. “She has concealed witnesses. She has tampered with evidence and she continues a conspiracy to hide sexual abuse that has occurred in her home.”

The prosecutor’s office says three reports of alleged sexual abuse in the Bellar home were made to Athens County Children Services over the years, one in February 2017, one in May 2018 and one in April 2020. These reports resulted in no formal action, which Athens County Prosecutor Keller Blackburn characterized as “an absolute systematic failure in handling these accusations.”

“Serah was turned away by authorities every time she tried to report this abuse,” he said in a news release Tuesday announcing the indictments.

Two agencies that work with children who are victims of abuse defended their actions in statements released Wednesday.

Athens County Children Services said in a news release that its role is to investigate allegations of suspected child abuse and that it works closely with local law enforcement in these investigations. However, it does not have the authority to bring charges against parents. That is the job of law enforcement.

“The staff at Athens County Children Services take very seriously every allegation of suspected child abuse and neglect and work tirelessly within their jurisdiction to ensure the safety and protection of the children involved,” spokesperson Robin Webb said in a prepared statement. “It is unfortunate that their work, dedication and commitment to child safety have been called into question when the work they do is so critical.”

The Athens County Child Advocacy Center, which helps coordinate investigations into allegations of child sexual abuse, also noted in a news release that it lacks the authority to make decisions about whether charges are brought or whether cases are prosecuted.

“My staff provide comfort and support for children on what is often one of the worst days of their lives,” Melissa Greenlee, the center’s executive director, said in a prepared statement. “I am saddened that the commitment of the CAC to child safety has been called into question. We take every allegation of abuse seriously.”

Blackburn told WOUB Wednesday that his office was not made aware of the results of any of the investigations at the time they were done.

“There is something that failed in the process,” he said.