Ron Bell, Josh Pastner’s tormentor, sentenced to probation, restitution

Georgia Tech coach Josh Pastner watches his team against North Carolina State in Atlanta, Thursday, March 1, 2018. (AP Photo/Danny Karnik)

Credit: Danny Karnik

Credit: Danny Karnik

Georgia Tech coach Josh Pastner watches his team against North Carolina State in Atlanta, Thursday, March 1, 2018. (AP Photo/Danny Karnik)

Ron Bell, the former friend of Georgia Tech basketball coach Josh Pastner who was convicted in July of concocting allegations of sexual assault against Pastner, was sentenced to three years of supervised probation Monday in an Arizona magistrate court. Bell also was ordered to make restitution in the amount of $719,002 for Pastner’s legal fees.

The sentence fell short of the prosecution’s sentencing request for Bell to serve a one-year prison term, the maximum sentence for the six misdemeanor charges that Bell was found guilty of committing.

“Judge, the maximum sentence is the only thing that may cause Mr. Bell to stop being a menace to this society, and that is what Mr. Pastner is requesting that this court give Mr. Bell,” Oro Valley, Ariz., prosecutor Troy Simon told magistrate court judge Bobbi Berry Monday at the sentencing hearing.

It doubtlessly was a disappointing outcome for Pastner, who along with wife, Kerri, listened to the hearing by phone. Pastner spoke in the sentencing hearing in August (before it was continued to Monday) how Bell’s actions were “pure evil, and there has to be severe consequence on this.” There perhaps was some consolation that the sentencing brings this bizarre chapter of Pastner’s life to an end that began when Bell turned on Pastner in the fall of 2017, first alleging that he was guilty of NCAA violations and then making claims of sexual assault, charges that were shown to be unfounded.

Ron Bell, kneeling in the background, watches Georgia Tech’s basketball team practice in 2016. Bell, a reformed prescription-drug addict and former prison inmate, befriended coach Josh Pastner, standing in the foreground, gaining remarkable access to Pastner’s teams and his family. Then their relationship dissolved amid allegations of NCAA violations, blackmail and sexual assault. Photo courtesy of Ron Bell.

icon to expand image

Bell’s attorney, Jeremy Zarzycki, contending that his client was suffering from mental illness and that prison time would be an undue hardship that would prevent him from getting the help that he needs, had sought unsupervised probation.

Addressing Bell, who was in the courtroom, Berry said that “this is a really difficult sentencing for me on the one hand, because these are misdemeanors, and the court can’t lose sight of the fact that they are misdemeanors. On the other hand, they’ve caused great — if not irreparable, in some respects — harm to Mr. Pastner.”

She told him that she was assigning great weight to the “emotional and financial harm” caused to Pastner as an aggravating factor, especially considering that Bell orchestrated the allegations — that Pastner had sexually assaulted Bell’s girlfriend, Jennifer Pendley, more than a dozen times — not only for financial gain but also for revenge.

She said she also considered his mental-health issues — while acknowledging that that she believes that Bell exaggerates his medical issues and “uses them to whatever ends he wants or sees fit” — as a mitigating factor, saying that they would be impacted by jail time. (Zarzycki contended that Bell has CTE, a claim that Pastner’s attorney Scott Palumbo disputed on the grounds that, among other things, CTE can be diagnosed only in an autopsy.)

“I was hoping to find remorse and acceptance or responsibility as mitigating factors in this case, but I can’t,” Berry said. “Because there is simply no evidence to suggest that you have any insight whatsoever to the person that you were, perhaps even still are, and the harm that you caused someone that was very kind to you.”

She said that “you set yourself singlehandedly on trying to ruin his career, his reputation and livelihood of what I think everyone in this courtroom can agree is one of the kindest people, someone who took you in as a friend, who trusted you completely with his basketball program, with his family, and you violated that trust. Your actions are calculated and cruel.”

She took him to task for intimidating Pendley — “who’s still sticking by you, God knows why” — into making the sexual assault claims against Pastner and manipulating a McCamish Pavilion security guard, Christopher Meegan, into corroborating the allegations.

Berry went on to say that “honestly, I don’t think there’s anything that I can do or actually craft by way of sentence to fit the seriousness and diabolical nature of these charges and your actions.”

She returned again to the fact that the convictions were for misdemeanor offenses, not felonies, while saying that, “I can’t even grasp how they are misdemeanor offenses, quite honestly, but nonetheless, we’re in a limited jurisdiction court and I have to keep that in mind.”

At that point, she presented the three-year probation sentence, restitution and a suspended 180-day jail sentence for each count. She also ordered Bell to continue with psychotherapy, refrain from drinking alcohol, not to contact Pastner or his family and to not make any comments on social media regarding Pastner, his coaching, his team or his family.

If Bell is shown to violate the terms of his probation — which also includes violations of law, even traffic laws, and willful failure to make timely and full restitution payments — he is to serve a 180-day jail sentence. A subsequent violation would mean another 180 days in jail.

Simon issued a statement Tuesday regarding the sentencing.

“The Oro Valley Prosecutor’s Office is pleased with the outcome of this case. The defendant was found guilty on all six counts. Although actual jail time would have been preferred, the state understands and accepts the judge’s reasoning. This was a complex case where a lot of complex decisions had to be made at many different levels. Most of all, we are glad for coach Josh Pastner and his family. As Judge Berry previously stated, what the defendant did to Pastner was ‘cruel and calculating.’ No one should ever be allowed to get away with a false allegation in order to try to destroy another person’s life; and no one should ever be allowed to profit from the pain and suffering of bona fide sexual assault victims. To do so is abhorrent to the criminal justice system. As a prosecutor, our office had to take action to try to correct a wrong, and we gave it our best shot.”