Arizona man who extorted former Wildcats coach gets prison time

Jul 28, 2023, 9:45 PM

Head coach Josh Pastner of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets makes a callout against the Syracuse Ora...

Head coach Josh Pastner of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets makes a callout against the Syracuse Orange during the second half at JMA Wireless Dome on February 28, 2023 in Syracuse, New York. (Photo by Isaiah Vazquez/Getty Images)

(Photo by Isaiah Vazquez/Getty Images)

ATLANTA — An Arizona man accused of trying to extort Georgia Tech by falsely accusing its men’s basketball coach of sexual assault has been sentenced to nearly three years in prison, federal prosecutors said.

Ronald Bell, 57, of Oro Valley, Arizona, was sentenced Thursday to two years, nine months in prison to be followed by three years of supervised release, U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Buchanan said in a news release. Bell pleaded guilty in March to conspiring with his co-defendant, Jennifer Pendley, and a security guard at Georgia Tech, to the extortion scheme.

“Ronald Bell tried to extort Georgia Tech and ruin the reputation of its basketball coach,” Buchanan said. “As federal prosecutors, we have a responsibility to the citizens of this district to pursue accountability and justice for crimes of sexual violence. But in this case Bell attempted to exploit the mission of our office, and law enforcement partners, to combat sexual assault through a brazen effort to enrich himself at the expense of Georgia Tech and a member of its staff. Bell has now been held accountable for his crime.”

Bell demanded money from Georgia Tech in exchange for not reporting the fictitious sexual assault, the news release said. When Georgia Tech refused to pay Bell, Pendley filed a lawsuit claiming sexual battery, sexual assault, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The claims falsely alleged that a guard witnessed assault. Ultimately, the security guard admitted that his statements were false and that Bell asked him to lie to support the false claim against the university’s basketball coach, Josh Pastner.

Bell told the security guard that the false accusation could be worth $20 million to Bell and Pendley and promised the guard a share of the money and a new Jeep, according to the news release.

Pastner, a former University of Arizona assistant coach, and the couple, who were once friends, have been entangled in litigation since January 2018. It started when Pastner sued them for blackmail and defamation. He accused them of falsely claiming he broke NCAA rules.

They in turn countersued, which is when they accused Pastner of sexually assaulting Pendley at a Houston hotel in 2016 when he was a coach at Memphis.

Georgia Tech conducted an independent investigation last year and found no basis for the sexual misconduct allegations.

It was not immediately clear if Pendley or the security guard face charges in the case.

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