An Arizona man claimed to have one piece of irrefutable evidence that Georgia Tech men’s basketball coach Josh Pastner sexually assaulted his girlfriend: a T-shirt onto which the coach allegedly ejaculated.
But on Friday, amid mounting indications that Pastner was the victim of an elaborate con, the man’s own lawyers suggested that the T-shirt may have never existed.
Lawyers for Ron Bell filed court documents formally seeking to drop Bell and his girlfriend, Jennifer Pendley, as clients. Attorneys Paul Gattone and Ashley Gilpin cited the couple’s refusal to produce the T-shirt and other purported evidence.
“Counsel suspects that the reluctance to produce the T-shirt for inspection may have to do with the fact that the nature of its evidentiary value was greatly exaggerated, if not fabricated, by Mr. Bell and Ms. Pendley,” the lawyers wrote.
The court filing came four days after Tech released an investigative report that disputed allegations that Pastner repeatedly assaulted Pendley in 2016 and 2017. A lawyer hired by Tech suggested that Bell, who had served about four years in prison for prescription-drug fraud, and Pendley ingratiated themselves with the coach, gaining extraordinary access to Pastner’s players and even his family. Then, the report said, they made up the alleged assaults, intending to extort money from Pastner.
Gattone and Gilpin cited the Tech investigation in their motion to withdraw from a pair of lawsuits: a defamation case that Pastner filed against Bell and Pendley in January and the couple’s countersuit accusing the coach of sexual assault.
Bell and Pendley claimed Pastner inappropriately touched Pendley as many as 17 times. Pastner denied the accusations. But the couple said the alleged abuse began in 2016 when Pastner tried to force Pendley to perform oral sex in a Houston hotel room. They said he masturbated and ejaculated on her T-shirt before leaving the room.
In interviews with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution this winter, Bell repeatedly said Pendley had preserved the T-shirt in a zip-lock bag hidden in a closet of their home in Tucson. He later told his lawyers he had placed the shirt in a safe-deposit box.
Bell delayed turning over the shirt for examination while he spent several weeks in jail on an old arrest warrant from Cobb County, where he once lived. Bell was released from jail in April after a judge ordered him to pay restitution to the victim of a 1997 theft.
In recent weeks, Gattone and Gilpin said, their clients would not discuss the shirt. The lawyers said they concluded they had been “misled as to the nature of the evidentiary value of the T-shirt,” leading them to make unfounded claims in the lawsuit against Pastner. Gattone and Gilpin said they “cannot ethically remain part of this litigation.”