Georgia Tech men’s basketball head coach Josh Pastner and his university are victims of an elaborate extortion plot, according to a federal indictment in Atlanta.
The indictment was returned by a grand jury on Aug. 24 and Ryan Buchanan, the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia, publicly shared details on Tuesday.
Sportico has obtained the indictment, which asserts that from October of 2017 to February of 2018, Ronald Bell and Jennifer Pendley, who are in a relationship, conspired with a Georgia Tech security guard named Christopher Meegan to falsely claim that Pastner had sexually assaulted Pendley. Prosecutors say Bell and Pendley assured Meegan he’d get a share of as much as a $20 million settlement from the university when the plot bore fruit. The trio furthered their scheme by communicating with Georgia Tech representatives that they’d drop the allegations in exchange for money. Meegan, prosecutors say, later admitted to law enforcement he made up a version of events at the behest of Bell.
The controversy attracted headlines in early 2018 when Pastner sued Bell and Pendley for defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress and other claims. Pendley then countersued Pastner for sexual battery and sexual assault, including an accusation that Pastner tried to force her to perform oral sex and that Meegan witnessed Pastner assaulting Pendley. Pastner’s civil suit and the Bell and Pendley countersuit were both dropped in 2019.
Court filings from the civil litigation indicate that Bell and Pastner briefly interacted in 2007, when Pastner was an assistant coach at the University of Arizona. Bell allegedly approached him in a gym to talk about his life struggles. Pastner is described as advising Bell on where to seek treatment for a drug addiction.
It appears their acquaintance ended but resumed in 2013, when Bell emailed Pastner, who was then the head coach at the University of Memphis. Bell said he was the person whom Pastner had advised in 2007 and that he was suffering from cancer. Bell didn’t mention that he had recently been released from prison for felony drug charges. Pastner invited Bell, who was based in Arizona, to attend University of Memphis games, which Bell did often, sometimes accompanied by Pendley. The two became close to the team and gave them various gifts, including snacks, candy and T-shirts that featured motivational expressions regularly used by Pastner.
The relationship between the trio deteriorated when Pastner was hired by Georgia Tech in 2016. Bell and Pendley were upset they lost the same degree of access to players. Pastner accused Bell of blackmailing him—namely, that he would go public with evidence of NCAA recruiting violations. Pastner says Bell went so far as to claim that TMZ.com was offering him $55,000 to spill the story. Pastner also learned that Bell had provided free sneakers to Georgia Tech players and told them not to tell Pastner. (Georgia Tech reported the violations to the NCAA and a couple of players were suspended.)
Bell is depicted as making various threats that if he was merely paid, he wouldn’t go public. Bell is also accused of telling NCAA investigators that Pastner engaged in inappropriate sexual acts with Pendley.
The university retained Paul Kelly, a principal at Jackson Lewis and a former federal prosecutor and NHLPA executive director, to investigate.
The indictment contains several descriptions of damning evidence, including this text exchange between Bell and Meegan in October 2017:
BELL: Nobody knows we talk, which is perfect.
BELL: Keep me posted on anything out of sorts.
BELL: Let me know if you see [Pastner’s wife]. She started this [expletive], but I am going to finish it. Watch.
C.M. Sounds good!
BELL: Any photo of [Pastner] would be great.
BELL: Go stealth. . . .
BELL: I will send you a pair of GT game shorts, yes, the real ones, for photos during the game of [Pastner] & the three players.
C.M. [thumbs up]
A couple of months later, Bell texted a representative of Georgia Tech:
It’s December 5th. We met on Nov. 10th. I need this wrapped up by December 10th.
GTs BS investigation took hours & it was a joke. I am not waiting
anymore. I assure you that GT will be in serious trouble if I respond back to the NCAA. . . .
GT will look foolish when they see on TV that their Coach broke the most serious recruiting offense possible, tampering, and when he gets arrested for a crime that will ruin GTs reputation of who they have as their Basketball Coach. . . .
If this is not resolved immediately, it’s going to be a bad deal for GT. I tried to help them and I have seen nothing from them. . . .
Bell and Pendley face three charges: conspiracy to commit extortion, conspiracy to interfere with commerce through extortion and interference with commerce through extortion. The charges collectively carry maximum sentences exceeding 40 years in prison. The duo will have a chance to defend themselves and dispute allegations made by prosecutors.
Georgia Tech stood by Pastner during the controversy, a decision that some schools might not have made in the face of serious and high-profile allegations of sexual misconduct. The school’s decision to retain a seasoned internal investigator helped the school separate fact from fiction. The NCAA also issued multiple sanctions against Georgia Tech in 2019 for recruiting violations stemming in part from Bell’s acts, but after weighing the advocacy of Jackson Lewis attorneys on behalf of the school, the NCAA vacated multiple sanctions in 2021.
The indictments of Bell and Pendley further validate Georgia Tech’s decision to stand by the 45-year-old Pastner, who is now entering his seventh season with the Yellow Jackets.
“Georgia Tech has strongly supported Coach Pastner through this entire episode with Ron Bell,” Kelly told Sportico in an interview on Wednesday. “Both Josh and the university have been the victims of extortionate conduct at the hands of this person who, through deception and fraud—including a false claim of cancer—befriended Coach Pastner several years ago. The university is appreciative of the efforts of the U.S. Attorney’s Office and FBI in pursuing a just result in this matter.”