Sex assault claims against Tech coach an elaborate con, report says

Ron Bell presented himself as Josh Pastner's biggest fan. So when the Georgia Tech men's basketball coach didn't show the proper appreciation for his loyalty, Bell lashed out.

“You know in poker, Kerri, they say that if you can’t spot the sucker at the table, then the sucker is you,” Bell texted the coach’s wife in February 2017. “I kinda feel that way about now. Wouldn’t you?”

But Bell's pique – and even his devotion to Pastner – may have been less than sincere. Instead, according to a report that Tech released Monday, they were part of an elaborate blackmail scheme that included allegations of sexual misconduct by the coach. The report's author, a New Orleans attorney hired by Tech, cleared Pastner of accusations that he sexually assaulted Bell's girlfriend as many as 17 times.

“None of the allegations of sexual misconduct against Josh Pastner are credible,” Scott D. Schneider of Fisher & Phillips wrote in the report. “It is highly likely that the allegations of sexual misconduct against Pastner were concocted by Bell, made in bad faith, and asserted only after various other attempts to damage and/or extort Pastner failed.”

Schneider's findings lift a cloud of suspicion that enveloped Pastner last winter after he sued Bell and his girlfriend, Jennifer Pendley, for defamation and they responded with their own lawsuit accusing him of sexual assault both at Tech and at his previous school, the University of Memphis. On one occasion, Pendley said, Pastner masturbated in front of her and tried to force her to perform oral sex. Bell claimed to have a T-shirt of Pendley's onto which Pastner ejaculated.

The lawsuits are pending in Arizona.

But in a detailed, 29-page narrative, Schneider rebutted each claim that Bell and Pendley made in court documents and in media interviews. He pointed to inconsistencies in the couple’s stories and established that a purported witness to one instance of Pastner’s alleged misconduct was in another state when Pendley said the assault occurred.

Schneider suggested that Bell — a former prison inmate and drug addict — predicated his relationship with Pastner on lies. He said Bell used a purported cancer diagnosis to "garner sympathy or attention from Pastner," who in turn granted Bell and Pendley "unparalleled" access to himself, his family and the basketball programs at Tech and Memphis. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported in February that Bell and Pendley traveled with the teams, ate meals with players and had access to the locker rooms. Bell shared one video in which he addressed the Memphis team during practice and another that showed him lining up on the sidelines with players and coaches for handshakes with an opposing team after a 2015 game.

Bell and Pendley, who live in Tucson, Arizona, did not respond to a request for an interview Monday. Their lawyer, Paul Gattone, said he plans to resign from the case and declined to respond to the report’s findings. On his advice, Gattone said, Bell and Pendley refused to cooperate with Schneider’s investigation. Pastner’s lawyer, Scott Tompsett of Kansas City, declined to comment.

In a statement, Tech said Athletic Director Todd Stansbury had discussed the report with Pastner and gave him “recommendations regarding access to the team and team activities.”

Schneider’s report confirmed previously published narratives of the relationship between Pastner and Bell.

Bell emailed the coach in 2014, shortly after he served time in prison for illegally obtaining a prescription narcotic painkiller. Pastner has denied knowing about Bell’s criminal history, Schneider said. But in the email, Bell credited Pastner with saving his life in 2007 by directing him to a drug rehabilitation program – an episode that Pastner has said he didn’t recall. A few months later, when Bell wrote to Pastner about his cancer diagnosis, he said his emotional connection to the Memphis team had helped him deal with the pain of treatment.

Pastner invited Bell to a Memphis game in Las Vegas in the fall of 2015, and by early 2016, Bell and Pendley had become fixtures with the Memphis team. The couple spent a month in Memphis and traveled with the team to several games. On one trip, Pendley would later allege, Pastner assaulted her for the first time. Nevertheless, she and Bell flooded Twitter with posts that defended Pastner, who faced intense public criticism as his team faltered late that season.

Pastner took the coaching job at Tech after the season ended, and Bell and Pendley shifted their allegiances to Atlanta. They attended several early season games and visited Pastner’s home. Last winter, Bell gave the Journal-Constitution photos he took on the team bus as it arrived for a game at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. He also shared a video showing Pastner’s three daughters taking turns sitting on Bell’s lap to tell him what they wanted for Christmas.

But as the season progressed, Bell complained that Pastner had not acknowledged his support, Schneider’s report said. The relationship quickly deteriorated.

“It is not entirely clear whether this was part of a premeditated con on Bell’s part or the result of genuine hurt feelings by Bell on account of feeling neglected by Pastner,” Schneider wrote. Either way, Schneider said, Bell had “a desire to ‘get Josh Pastner at all costs.’”

In the fall of 2017, the report said, Bell launched a month-long "campaign" of texts and emails in which he threatened to publicly disclose damaging information about Pastner – and repeatedly asked for money to keep quiet. In November, Bell gave interviews in which he said he had flown two Tech players to Arizona, a trip that constituted an "impermissible benefit" under NCAA rules. The NCAA later suspended the two players but took no action against the coach or the school.

But Schneider said Bell never mentioned the sexual assault allegations until early December — after Pastner, his agent and others connected to the coach refused his demands for a payoff.

Schneider said Bell has provided no evidence supporting his allegations — including the “semen-stained shirt” that Bell claimed to have preserved. The lawyer documented numerous inconsistent statements by Bell and Pendley regarding times and dates when the assaults allegedly occurred. And he found that a security guard at Tech’s basketball arena who claimed to have witnessed Pastner groping Pendley actually was a friend of Bell’s and wasn’t even in the state at the time of the alleged assault.

“I have concluded,” Schneider wrote, “that these allegations were fabricated and only were made after Bell’s other attempts to ‘finish’ Pastner failed.”

In the end, he wrote, “Josh Pastner was suckered into Ron Bell’s world” and Bell “turned his access in Josh Pastner’s world into a potential money-making opportunity.”