Ron Bell’s conviction for concocted allegations vindicates Josh Pastner

Georgia Tech head coach Josh Pastner speaks with Jordan Usher (4) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Virginia Tech Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021, in Blacksburg, Va. (Matt Gentry/The Roanoke Times via AP, Pool)
Caption
Georgia Tech head coach Josh Pastner speaks with Jordan Usher (4) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Virginia Tech Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021, in Blacksburg, Va. (Matt Gentry/The Roanoke Times via AP, Pool)

Credit: AP

The subject of a sexual-assault accusation that dragged his name through the mud, Georgia Tech coach Josh Pastner has received further and perhaps final exoneration, this time from an Arizona magistrate court judge.

A judge found that Ron Bell, the former friend of Pastner’s who initially claimed in December 2017 that Pastner had sexually assaulted Bell’s girlfriend, Jennifer Pendley, and later filed a lawsuit with Pendley against him making the same claim, worked to defame Pastner with the fabrication. The verdict of Oro Valley (Ariz.) magistrate court judge Bobbi Berry was issued last Tuesday and received by prosecutors over the weekend and Monday. ESPN first reported the verdict Monday.

“The evidence showed that Ronald Bell engaged in a pattern of reactive and retaliatory behavior against Josh Pastner over several months for perceived slights to their friendship/relationship,” Berry wrote in her verdict. “The prosecution proved that Ronald was motivated to bring about Josh Pastner’s downfall.”

In a case brought by the state of Arizona, Bell was found guilty of six misdemeanor counts – two counts of solicitation of influencing a witness, two counts of attempted tampering with a witness and one count of false information and another of facilitation of fraud, schemes and practice. Bell is to be sentenced July 19 by Berry.

“The totality of the evidence is incontrovertible that Ronald Bell knowingly provided/created the opportunity for Jennifer Pendley to falsely claim that she had been sexually assaulted and to report such to Oro Valley Law Enforcement,” the verdict read. “The false allegations were a scheme to deceive Oro Valley Law Enforcement and promote an investigation into an event that had not actually occurred.”

Bell became friends with Pastner while the coach was an assistant with Arizona (2000-08). They reconnected later when Pastner was at Memphis, and the friendship continued through his hire at Tech in April 2016.

When the two had a falling out in the fall of that year, Bell came public with information that he had provided impermissible benefits to two Yellow Jackets players (Josh Okogie and Tadric Jackson) in the form of meals, a trip to Arizona and athletic gear. More damaging, he accused Pastner of directing him to do so.

As the NCAA looked into the violations, Bell claimed in December 2017 to an investigator that Pastner had sexually assaulted Pendley. That charge led Pastner to file a lawsuit in January 2018 against Bell and Pendley alleging defamation and extortion for their claims that Pastner had committed NCAA violations as well as the assault of Pendley. Pendley and Bell countersued a month later, claiming that Pastner had sexually assaulted Pendley in February 2016 while he was at Memphis and several times after he had been hired at Tech. The lawsuit claimed that a McCamish Pavilion security guard had seen Pastner grope Pendley prior to a November 2016 game.

As suspicion and scorn piled on Pastner, he and his legal team rejected the claims made by Bell and Pendley.

“My family and I are victims of fraud and extortion and the extent to which these individuals have gone to harm us is truly unfathomable,” Pastner said in a statement upon his January 2018 lawsuit. “I absolutely and unequivocally never assaulted or harassed Ms. Pendley and I am truly sickened by these false claims.”

Bell’s credibility eroded in ensuing months. A Title IX investigation authorized by Tech into the assault charges cleared Pastner of wrongdoing in May 2018, concluding that Bell made the sexual-assault allegations only when his documented attempts to induce Pastner to buy his silence failed.

In July of that year, Pastner’s lawyers filed court papers with transcripts of jailhouse calls between Pendley and Bell that implied that they had made up the allegations.

The following month, the security guard, Chris Meegan, recanted his allegation against Pastner and further said that Bell and Pendley offered him a portion of their lawsuit settlement in exchange for his testimony against Pastner.

In 2019, prosecutors in Oro Valley brought criminal fraud charges against Bell and Pendley, the case that concluded last week. Further, while Tech did receive NCAA sanctions, penalties in no small part due to Bell’s actions, Pastner was not found responsible.

“Through manipulation, threats or promises of benefits to Jennifer Pendley and Chris Meegan, the prosecution proved that Ronald Bell encouraged or commanded them to engage in conduct that promoted the false sexual assault allegations,” Berry wrote. “Ronald Bell also attempted to induce both Pendley and Meegan to testify falsely in official proceedings to further the false allegations.”

All six convictions are class 1 misdemeanors under Arizona state law. The maximum prison sentence for a single class 1 misdemeanor is six months. The case against Pendley was declared a mistrial in March.

Pastner, who has largely declined comment regarding his entanglement with Bell, did not return two requests for comment Monday. The Oro Valley legal services department, which prosecuted the case, did offer a statement.

“We are pleased with the outcome of the case, and we are very happy for Josh Pastner,” said Tobin Sidles, the director of legal services in Oro Valley.