Ron Bell, center, observes as Georgia Tech men’s basketball coach Josh Pastner conducts a practice in 2017. CONTRIBUTED

Georgia Tech’s Pastner settles defamation lawsuit against former friend

Georgia Tech men’s basketball coach Josh Pastner has dropped a lawsuit claiming an Arizona couple defamed him with accusations of NCAA rules violations.

In return, Ron Bell and Jennifer Pendley, former friends of Pastner’s who live near Tucson, Arizona, agreed to drop a countersuit alleging the coach sexually assaulted Pendley.

No money was exchanged under the settlement agreement, filed Monday in an Arizona court, and both sides will pay their own legal fees, Pastner’s lawyers said in a news release. An attorney for Bell and Pendley did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Pastner, who has a 48-53 record in three seasons at Tech, was traveling with his team Thursday for pre-season games in Spain.

The settlement concludes a long, sometimes bizarre, always public dispute between Pastner and Bell, a former drug addict and prison inmate who enjoyed remarkable access to the basketball teams at Tech and Memphis, the coach’s previous school.

After a falling-out in 2017, Bell accused Pastner of instructing him to provide players with benefits that are impermissible under NCAA rules. Bell and Pendley later said Pastner had assaulted Pendley on several occasions, including at the team’s hotel during a road trip to Houston.

Pastner denied their allegations. A law firm hired by Tech cleared him of sexual misconduct.

The NCAA found earlier this year that Bell was acting as a representative of Tech’s athletic interests when he paid to bring two of Pastner’s players to his home in Arizona in 2017. The NCAA also said Bell tried to improperly recruit another athlete who was still playing for Memphis.

NCAA enforcement officials held Tech responsible for Bell’s actions. A hearing before the association’s infractions committee is scheduled for Aug. 22.

The NCAA said Pastner knew or should have known that Bell was acting on Tech’s behalf, but it accused the coach of no wrongdoing.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported last month that Pastner repeatedly mischaracterized his ties to Bell when he spoke to NCAA investigators in 2017. The AJC obtained a recording of the confidential interview, in which Pastner gave inaccurate or misleading answers to questions about Bell’s access to players and coaches and about his awareness of Bell’s illicit efforts.

Pastner’s lawyers have tried to discredit Bell, citing his extensive criminal record. Local authorities in a Tucson suburb recently charged Bell and Pendley with falsely accusing Pastner of sexual assault.

In the press release, Pastner’s lawyers said they would have prevailed in a trial, but “the cost to try the case far outweighs any benefit to Mr. Pastner.”

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