Ronald Bell, an Arizona man who attempted to extort money from Georgia Tech and conspired with his girlfriend and a security guard to accuse Yellow Jackets basketball coach Josh Pastner of sexually assaulting her, pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiracy to commit extortion on Wednesday, according to U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Buchanan.
The government said that Bell, who had previously been Pastner’s friend, admitted he recruited the security guard to falsely claim that he witnessed Pastner assault Jennifer Pendley. Bell had promised the security guard a share of what he alleged would be a $20 million settlement.
“The defendant tried to extort Georgia Tech and egregiously tarnish the reputation of the university’s coach with a false claim of sexual assault,” Buchanan said in a statement. “By his guilty plea he acknowledged the lie and his criminal conduct, and will now face the consequences for his crime.”
Pastner previously denied the couple’s allegations, saying there was “zero truth to any of those disgusting, bogus allegations. It’s disgusting.”
The government said Bell also communicated with Georgia Tech officials and demanded money in exchange for not reporting the alleged sexual assault. In one text message, Bell wrote: “This is going to get very ugly. GT has made no effort . . . to amicably resolve this . . . I guess this has to get ugly. I tried to resolve this without damaging GT’s reputation . . . .”
After Georgia Tech officials refused to pay Bell the bribe, the government said, Pendley filed a lawsuit in which she claimed sexual assault, sexual battery, and infliction of emotional distress.
The security guard later recanted his statement about witnessing Pastner assault Pendley before a game against Sam Houston State in Atlanta on Nov. 22, 2016. The security guard later admitted he wasn’t working that day and was out of the state and made the allegations “in exchange for an offer of a portion of an anticipated civil monetary settlement/judgment.”
Pendley pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiracy to commit extortion on Feb. 22. Bell is scheduled for sentencing on June 8.
An Arizona judge had previously convicted Bell on six misdemeanor charges for falsely accusing Pastner of sexually assaulting Pendley in a hotel room in Houston in February 2016.