Unlicensed home care provider pleads guilty to abuse

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Assistant Cobb County District Attorney Jason Marbutt didn't mince words when he described the living conditions of Helen Bell's mentally disabled adult clients.

“These living conditions are deplorable,” Marbutt told Cobb County Superior court judge Tain Kell.

Ms. Bell was in court to enter a plea in a 16 count indictment for abusing and neglecting mentally disabled adults living in her unlicensed personal care home in Cobb County.

Earlier this year, the FOX 5 I-Team saw the living conditions first hand.  After Helen Bell was arrested, we visited her basement where the men lived.

We found stained and peeling concrete floors. We also saw tiny bedrooms with make shift walls, not much bigger than the bed. There were exposed ceilings, no more than 7 feet high. And, we are told no air conditioning in the summer, no heat in the winter.

Joe Wilson, was one of the men living in the home.    “It felt like rain,” Mr. Wilson told us. “I felt the cold wind. Air was in the basement. Below zero temperature.”

Wilson told us the basement was overrun with rats, and the men lived off of a diet of bologna sandwiches. “We were always hungry,” Mr. Wilson told us.

Prior to the plea, prosecutor Jason Marbutt told Judge Tain Kell that Ms. Bell locked the men in a virtual dungeon, with a broken toilet, and infrequent meals.

He said when police raided the home; the men living in the basement asked if the police were there to help them.

Marbutt said one man, Robert Bacon, once got out and was arrested for panhandling. Ms. Bell, his caregiver never bailed him out, but took his disability check every month for more than a year.

“These men were treated like commodities.  They were a source of income,” Marbutt said.

Helen Bell's attorney, Careton Matthews, told the judge Ms. Bell gave the men keys to those locked doors, was trying to renovate a home she didn't own, and often cooked for her clients.

Helen Bell, who is 71 and suffering from a variety of health problems, told the judge she is afraid to die in jail.

She then entered an Alford plea, meaning she denies the charges, but pleads guilty.

Judge Tain Kell will sentence Ms. Bell in June.

Prosecutors are also pursuing a second abuse case against Ms. Bell’s daughter, Sheila Hawkins, owner of Serene Reflections, a therapy center. She has denied any wrongdoing.