BEDMINSTER, N.J. - Stephen Bradley Mell had it all - a $3.8 million home, a brokerage firm, two airplanes, a helicopter, a wife and three children.
But on Tuesday, he is facing the possibility of five years in federal prison and five years of supervised release after pleading guilty shortly before Christmas 2018 to charges of engaging in interstate travel to engage in illicit sexual conduct and receiving child pornography.
He is free on a $1 million bond, with his mother putting up her home on Kiawah Island, South Carolina, as security. He also agreed to surrender his pilot's license, stay 1,000 feet away from the victim's home and place of employment, have no use of computers and agree to take periodic polygraph tests to ensure compliance with his release on bail.
Mell is also facing the possibility of a multi-year sentence in state prison after he pleaded guilty May 13 in Hunterdon County Superior Court to third-degree endangering the welfare of a child by engaging in sexual relations with a female victim under the age of 16 in Readington and Bedminster. He is scheduled to be sentenced July 12.
Known by many as Brad, Mell was an active community member, serving on the board of the Far Hills Day School and volunteering in numerous charities, including the New Jersey Conservation Foundation.
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He owned numerous aircraft and he had a helipad at his township home, a status symbol among the rich. He started his own charitable foundation, Air Lifeline (merged in 2009 with Angel Flights), which allowed families of children with medical needs the ability to fly anywhere in the country for medical treatment.
But, law-enforcement authorities say, it was his love of flying that contributed to his life going into a tailspin.
A well-respected man
Mell, 53, lived in a 7,768-square-foot home on Black River Road in the northwestern corner of Bedminster. It's in one of the poshest neighborhoods in the wealthy Somerset Hills section of Somerset County, where horses outnumber people. Neighborhood residents include former Gov. Thomas Kean and Woody Johnson, the owner of the New York Jets and the American ambassador to the United Kingdom. It's a few miles away from Trump National Golf Club. Mell also grew up in Bedminster, in the heart of horse country on Holland Road.
After earning a master's degree in psychology, he worked as a trader for State Street Bank in Boston where he "began to develop a talent for finance," according to a legal brief filed May 5, 2018, in federal court to support his release on bail.
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After he got married - it was announced in the New York Times - he moved back to New Jersey and began working with his father as at municipal bond trader at his father's company, W.H. Mell Associates.
"Mr. Mell being who he is did not just grow into the business; he helped transform the company from the ground up," the brief says.
In 1996, he took over as president of the company where he treated the more than a dozen associates "like family" and grew the business to "staggering heights."
As both his business and his family grew, Mell always had time for his children and volunteering in the community. In Boston, where he attended college, he became an auxiliary police officer. He was coach of the hockey team for more than a decade at the Essex Hunt Club in Peapack-Gladstone, an organization better known for its fox hunts and its membership, which once included Jackie Onassis. He was a member of Somerset Hills Country Club, an exclusive club in Bernardsville with one of the country's top golf courses.
Mell also served as a board member at Westminster School, a prep school in Connecticut, where his son is a student. In May 2017, he received the "Unsung Hero Award" from Far Hills Country Day School.
"Mr. Mell has a lifetime of contacts in the New Jersey area, many of whom are well-respected professionals," according to legal documents filed by his attorney, Robert Bianchi, who formerly served as Morris County Prosecutor.
It was quite a climb for Mell, who overcame a severe disability to achieve success at home, in business and the community.
Early in his school days, he struggled, barely making C's and D's. But headmasters at Far Hills Country Day School recognized he was suffering from an " extreme case" of dyslexia which, his lawyer's brief said, "he worked tirelessly to overcome."
"In seventh-grade, Mr. Mell went from C's and D's to an improvement so drastic that he received the Headmaster's Award," the brief said.
As a teen, Mell became passionate about flying. He earned his pilot's license at the age of 16.
"His love of flying, along with the peace, serenity and joy he got from being in the air, became the source of his greatest memories," according to the brief.
It also led to his fall from grace.
Fall from grace
It all started when the victim's mother introduced her to Mell for flying lessons.
According to the brief filed in support of his release on bail, Mell already had "a pre-existing relationship with the minor" when he began communicating with her.
"In fact, it was the minor's mother who first introduced Mr. Mell to obtain flight lessons for the minor," the brief states.
According to the May 8, 2018, federal complaint that graphically details the charges, Mell began communicating with the 15-year-old through text messages and SnapChat in 2017. He was 51 at the time.
The communication between Mell and the minor became sexual when Mell asked the girl "if she knew how to perform oral sex." He later invited her to spend time alone with him at his Bedminster home.
On June 20, 2017, Mell "performed oral sex acts" on the girl, according to the complaint. Two weeks later, he messaged the girl and told her, "Miss you so much."
On July 5, 2017, he again performed sex acts on the minor, according to the complaint. One day later, he purchased an emergency contraceptive pill for her.
"If you are nervous it will hurt more," Mell said to the girl in a text message. "When you are turned on is when it will feel ok."
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On July 20, 2017, Mell flew with her in his private plane from Somerset Airport to Barnstable, Massachusetts on Cape Cod "for the purpose of engaging in illicit conduct, specifically, a sexual act with a person under the age of eighteen."
On the flight back, Mell put the aircraft in autopilot mode and engaged in sex acts, the complaint says.
The next day, Mell performed sex acts on the minor in Hunterdon County, according to the complaint.
Throughout August 2017, Mell asked the girl to send him text messages, SnapChat photos or FaceTime video chats of images of the minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct.
Sometime during the summer of 2017, Mell gave the girl a birthday card for her 16th birthday.
On Aug. 23, 2017, Mell arranged for a hotel room to be booked on the same day and in the same town the minor was out eating dinner.
"Now let me get a room and we are all set," Mell said to the girl in a text message.
Around that same time, Mell and the minor traveled to New York City separately and, while in the city, engaged in sexual intercourse, according to the complaint. He then took a photo of the girl with his cellphone while she was standing naked in front of him, her "genital area clearly visible."
On Sept. 18, 2017 he begged the minor to get birth control.
"Please get the IUD," he texted her. "I know you are trying."
In October, about six months after the two began communicating, Mell sent the minor a text message that read: "Trust me the sex is amazing but so is being around you."
The last event chronicled in the federal complaint took place on Nov. 14, 2017, when Mell requested the girl to "Send me a nice naked pic cute thing."
Court documents also show that his wife has filed for divorce.
On Tuesday, Mell will appear in federal court to find out what his sentence will be.
Bianchi, Mell's lawyer, declined to comment on the case.
The brief supporting Mell's release on bail said that the events of Oct. 1, 2011, sent him "into a spiral of depression."
Two of his close friends died after a helicopter owned by Mell had crashed.
Mell, according to the documents, was supposed to go on the golf outing to New York, but a last-minute circumstance caused Mell to back out of the trip. He asked another one of his friends to take his place.
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The two later crashed in Mell's helicopter just outside Mount Pocono and died.
Burdened with survivor's guilt, Mell began seeing a therapist and was prescribed multiple antidepressants.
"It was in therapy that Mr. Mell was able to see how much he was doing for so many people and how the burden of his responsibility to so many people was taking its toll on him emotionally," the legal brief said, adding Mell is a "humble man" who "doesn't announce the accolades he has received in his lifetime."
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This article originally appeared on Bridgewater Courier News: Millionaire faces jail time for sex with teen on private airplane on autopilot