In jailhouse calls, Josh Pastner’s accusers suggest charges fabricated

Ron Bell, second from left, observes Georgia Tech men’s basketball coach Josh Pastner conduct a practice session. Bell and his girlfriend later accused Pastner of sexual assault. CONTRIBUTED

Ron Bell, second from left, observes Georgia Tech men’s basketball coach Josh Pastner conduct a practice session. Bell and his girlfriend later accused Pastner of sexual assault. CONTRIBUTED

Ron Bell sat in an Arizona jail, stewing and swearing. He was trying to figure out how he could avoid extradition to Georgia for an old probation violation. And, in remarkably vulgar terms, he was blaming this predicament on his girlfriend, the woman he claimed was sexually assaulted by his former friend, Georgia Tech men's basketball coach Josh Pastner.

Now, on the telephone, his girlfriend, Jennifer Pendley, was crying as he berated her for suing Pastner and, in his mind, landing him in trouble.

“I’m sick and tired of being in jail because you filed the lawsuit,” Bell told Pendley in a video call recorded by jail officials last spring.

“Well,” Pendley replied, “whose fault – why did I file it?”

“Did you hear what you just said on the phone?” Bell said into the camera. “Look at me. You are so stupid.”

What Bell realized, Pastner’s lawyers said in court papers filed Friday, is that Pendley was admitting the couple had fabricated the allegations that threatened the career of Tech’s third-year coach.

“This could cost you your lawsuit,” Bell told Pendley, according to a transcript of the call. “Dumb move. Dumb move. On a recorded line. Dumb move.”

The exchange was one of many cited in court papers as lawyers sought sanctions against Bell and Pendley for refusing to produce evidence supporting their sexual assault claims. During many of their 300 telephone and video calls, the Tucson, Arizona, couple repeatedly implied they had made up the allegations. The veiled admissions, Pastner’s lawyers said, show Bell and Pendley are “perpetuating fraud upon Pastner and the court.”

In one call, Bell ordered Pendley to stop going to counseling for sexual assault victims while he was in jail, suggesting she had no need for therapy.

“Listen to what I’m about to say and read between the lines,” Bell told Pendley. “I think you can live without sexual assault counseling for a couple of weeks. Do you?”

“Yes, absolutely, honey,” Pendley said. “I agree.”

“And we don’t want to say why, but you know why, right?” Bell answered. “And I know why, right?”

“Yes,” Pendley said. “Yes.”

Pastner sued Bell and Pendley for defamation last December, even before they went public with allegations that he had assaulted Pendley numerous times in 2016. Pendley filed a countersuit alleging sexual assault in February.

Pastner's lawyers declined to comment Friday. Bell did not respond to a text message. His lawyers recently left the case, saying they suspected Bell and Pendley had lied about the existence of a key piece of evidence: a T-shirt onto which Pastner allegedly ejaculated while assaulting Pendley.

Even though Bell is a convicted felon and admitted former drug addict, Pastner befriended the couple in early 2016, granting them extraordinary access to his basketball program, first at Memphis and then at Tech. They traveled with the teams, shared in team meals and at least once rode the team bus. They also visited Pastner's home, where they posed for photographs with his wife and their young daughters.

After a falling-out in early 2017, Bell alleged he had given impermissible benefits to Tech athletes on Pastner’s behalf. The NCAA briefly suspended two players but took no action against Pastner.

Last month, Tech released a report from an outside lawyer who said the sexual assault claims against Pastner were not credible.

Bell spent about five weeks in jail this spring — first in Arizona, then in Georgia — for violating his probation from a 1997 theft conviction in Cobb County, where he once lived. He was released after a judge ordered him to pay the victim about $10,000 in restitution and placed him on probation for another 4 ½ years.

In jail, Bell talked to Pendley by phone several hours a day. He repeatedly threatened to publicly renounce her assault claims, saying she could end up in jail for making false allegations.

“I’m coming clean, Jennifer,” Bell told Pendley on April 2.

“Don’t deviate from our plan,” he said in another call. “Don’t deviate from what I tell you. … Any deviation — I want to make this crystal clear — any deviation from what we’ve discussed today, that’s it, we’re never talking. I’m going to dump you right here while I’m in jail. … I’ll go to the press. You don’t want that, do you?”

The transcripts excerpted in court files portray a volatile, manipulative relationship. Bell often called Pendley vulgar names. He described her as “stupid” and “mentally ill.” He threatened to leave her if she didn’t get him out of jail quickly. She begged him to stay in the relationship.

When Bell ordered Pendley to drop out of counseling, he said she should be available to him at any time.

“Who’s more important?” Bell said. “Me, right now.”

“Yes,” Pendley answered, “you are.”