A federal grand jury in Atlanta has indicted an Arizona couple for conspiring to extort money from Georgia Tech by falsely accusing Yellow Jackets basketball coach Josh Pastner of sexual assault.
According to the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern District of Georgia, Ronald Bell and co-defendant Jennifer Pendley were indicted on felony charges of conspiracy to transmit a threat interstate, conspiracy to extort property from another and attempted extortion on Aug. 24.
"The defendants are alleged to have falsely accused Georgia Tech's coach of sexual assault," U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Buchanan said in a statement. "They then demanded a large payment in exchange for a retraction of the claim. The Federal Bureau of Investigation and our other federal law enforcement partners are especially proficient in exposing false allegations designed to extort money. Individuals who attempt to perpetrate such criminal schemes at the expense of law-abiding citizens will be caught and prosecuted."
In a motion filed to the court on Friday, Buchanan asked a federal judge not to release Bell on bond because there is a "serious risk that the defendant will flee" and a "serious risk that the defendant will threaten, injure, or intimidate a prospective witness or juror, or attempt to do so."
According to the U.S. Attorney's Office, Bell and Pendley allegedly conspired with each other and Chris Meegan, a Georgia Tech security guard, to falsely accuse Pastner of sexual assault. The government accused Bell of recruiting Meegan to falsely claim that he witnessed Pastner assault Pendley, who later filed a lawsuit against Pastner in which she accused him of sexual battery, sexual assault and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
The federal government claims Bell told Meegan that Pendley's claim could be worth $20 million and promised him a portion of the money. The government alleges Bell also demanded money from Georgia Tech representatives to not report Pendley's allegations. Meegan later told law enforcement that he made up the allegations against Pastner and was encouraged to do so by Bell.
An Arizona judge previously convicted Bell, a former friend of Pastner's, on six misdemeanor counts in July 2021: two counts of solicitation of influencing a witness, two counts of attempted tampering with a witness, false information and facilitation of fraud, scheme and practice.
Pendley called police on May 8, 2019, and reported that Pastner sexually assaulted her in a Houston hotel room while he was coaching at Memphis in 2016. Pendley's call to police came ahead of mediation in a civil lawsuit related to the accusation. A 2018 court filing by Pastner's attorneys, Scott Tompsett and Scott Palumbo, included recorded jailhouse conversations that suggested the couple fabricated the allegations.
In January 2018, Pastner filed a civil suit against Bell and Pendley in Superior Court in Pima County, Arizona, alleging they were trying to extort and blackmail him by threatening to release false allegations about him to the media, Georgia Tech and the NCAA.
Bell and Pendley filed a countersuit in February 2018, alleging Pastner had sexually assaulted Pendley in the hotel room and harassed her other times. A Title IX investigation, conducted by attorneys hired by Georgia Tech, cleared Pastner in the matter in June 2018.
The sides agreed to drop their lawsuits in August 2019.
In a November 2017 report by CBS Sports, Bell alleged Pastner provided Georgia Tech basketball players Josh Okogie and Tadric Jackson with improper benefits by paying for them to fly to his home in Tucson, Arizona, and paying for their meals at a restaurant in Atlanta. Bell also alleged he sent the players shoes and shirts that he purchased online.
After becoming aware of Bell's allegations in October 2017, Pastner said he reported the violations to Georgia Tech's compliance department. Tech officials self-reported the violations to the NCAA, and the school declared Okogie and Jackson ineligible for competition at the start of the 2017-18 season. The NCAA suspended Okogie for six games and Jackson for three. They also required the players to repay the amounts of the benefits they received.
In September 2019, the NCAA placed the Yellow Jackets on four years of probation and banned them from playing in postseason tournaments during the 2019-20 season. The committee on infractions ruled that Bell provided players with $2,424 in shoes, clothes, meals, transportation and lodging.
An NCAA infractions appeals committee vacated multiple sanctions against Tech in February 2021.