A St. Joseph man who admitted he was looking for child pornography on the internet has been sentenced to seven years and a month in prison.

William Bell, 40, told U.S. District Court Judge Michael Mihm on Jan. 6 that he was a good person who “made a poor choice.”

The former information technology employee for the Monticello schools pleaded guilty in April to possession and transport of child pornography, all from his home.

The investigation began in July 2018 after Microsoft notified federal authorities about a pornographic image of a child uploaded to one of its search engines that traced to Bell’s computer address. It happened again the following month. Further investigation revealed that Bell did not search for or look at child pornography while he was on the job. He had been employed 15 years as an information technology specialist.

Bell was arrested following his indictment in February 2019. He had resigned his job days before. A search of computers in his home turned up hundreds of images of children in compromising sexual poses and deleted files.

A tearful Bell apologized to the judge, his family and the public.

This situation has devastated my life,” said the divorced father of three, whose ex-wife and parents were present for his sentencing.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Elly Peirson agreed to recommend a lesser sentence for Bell given his cooperation with authorities following his arrest, even though that did not lead to the prosecution of anyone else.

Peirson recommended 9 years and one month behind bars, while Bell’s attorney, Tom Bruno of Urbana, asked for the minimum of five years.

Reviewing some of the facts of Bell’s case, Mihm observed that Bell’s conduct was “not an impulsive act.”

It went on over a period of time and involved a number of separate and distinct choices ... where you made the wrong choice,” the judge said.

Mihm called Bell a “model citizen” but for his foray into child pornography and reminded him that “the harm that’s done by this stuff is really, really severe.”

After his release from prison, Bell will be on supervised release for 10 years and will have to register as a sex offender. He may have no contact with children under 18 except his own. He was also ordered to pay $6,300 in assessments.