Attorneys representing Georgia Tech men's basketball coach Josh Pastner filed a civil suit Friday against an Arizona man and woman who accused him of breaking NCAA rules.
In the lawsuit, filed in Superior Court in Pima County, Arizona, the attorneys claimed former Tech booster Ron Bell and his girlfriend, Jennifer Pendley, "began a malicious campaign to defame Pastner, and to extort and blackmail Pastner, by threatening to release and releasing to the public, the media, Georgia Tech and the National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA), false and patently untrue information Bell and Pendley believed and intended would be extremely damaging to Pastner's reputation and would result in Pastner losing his job at Georgia Tech and being penalized by the NCAA."
Among other accusations, Bell accused Pastner of sexually assaulting Pendley, which Pastner's attorneys denied in the lawsuit. Bell made a similar accusation about Pastner during telephone conversations with ESPN.
"I am disgusted and devastated by the actions of two individuals to whom I showed compassion," Pastner said in a statement. "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. I absolutely and unequivocally never assaulted or harassed Ms. Pendley and I am truly sickened by these false claims."
In a Nov. 7 report by CBS Sports, Bell alleged that he had 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 on Oct. 2, 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 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.
"Much of the information Bell and Pendley threatened to release and did release was known by Bell and Pendley to be materially false, inaccurate and misleading, and Bell and Pendley intended that Pastner would be threatened, blackmailed and extorted into paying them money in order to prevent the information from being disclosed to the public, the media, Georgia Tech and the NCAA," the lawsuit said.
Bell, who served four years in prison from 2009 to 2013 following his conviction on felony drug charges, told ESPN that he met Pastner while Pastner was working as an assistant coach at Arizona. According to the lawsuit, Bell told Pastner that he was ill with cancer in June 2014 and asked for his emotional support.
"No matter what, I am your biggest and most ardent supporter," Bell wrote in an email to Pastner in August 2015, according to the lawsuit. "I always have your back Josh. That's because I believe in you and what you stand for. You are what's truly great about intercollegiate athletics. Your passion is infectious.
"The truth is that I am a better man with you in my life. You give new meaning to the word honesty and integrity. Your lead has helped me learn to value, appreciate and adopt those philosophies in my own life. Even if it's just a small amount. For that I will always be grateful. The people who love me the most see the changes in my everyday life Josh. The small amount of humility that I have developed comes from watching and observing you from afar. Thank you for that my friend."
In February 2016, Pastner invited Bell and Pendley to attend games when he was coaching at Memphis. Shortly after they arrived at Memphis, the lawsuit says, Pastner sent Bell an email, which read: "As you know most important thing to me over anything else is having us always be in compliance with NCAA rules. Just remember, you cannot give anything to a player, not even cookies, a meal, a t-shirt, a dollar bill, gear, or anything else without my approval. That way I know if it is allowable or not per NCAA rules. Just want to remind you on that."
Pastner also sent an email to Memphis compliance officer Kristan Kelly, informing her of Bell's visit and asking if Bell could provide Memphis players with T-shirts that included inspirational messages.
According to the lawsuit, their friendship began to deteriorate when Bell became upset that he and Pendley weren't allowed to eat with the Yellow Jackets during a postgame meal after a game against Tennessee on Dec. 3, 2016. Bell also became upset when he saw another Georgia Tech booster enter the Yellow Jackets' locker room, which Pastner wouldn't allow him to do, while watching a game on TV.
"When Pastner returned home late that night and learned of Bell's complaints, Pastner called Bell and told him in words or substance to take a step back from the Georgia Tech men's basketball program and to stop complaining and being so needy of attention from Pastner," the lawsuit said. "Pastner told Bell that he cared about Bell and appreciated his support for the basketball program, but that he wanted Bell to simply be a fan of the program."
The lawsuit said Bell first made threats about turning over information about NCAA violations in the Tech basketball program to the media and NCAA during a phone conversation with Pastner on Oct. 2. The lawsuit said Pastner immediately contacted Tech officials about Bell's threats and asked them for their help in investigating whether any of his players had accepted impermissible gifts from Bell.
The same day, Pastner alleges, Bell told him that TMZ.com had offered him $55,000.00 for his story. The lawsuit said Pastner and a Georgia Tech official reported Bell's harassing and threatening conduct to the Georgia Tech Police Department.
"Bell, however, continued his harassment of Pastner and began threatening to reveal information to the public, the media, Georgia Tech and the NCAA that Bell said would be damaging to Pastner's career and reputation if Pastner did not pay money to Bell," the lawsuit said. "Specifically, after Pastner stopped communicating with Bell on October 2, Bell began a month-long campaign of sending texts and emails to Pastner threatening to disclose unspecified information to media outlets that Bell claimed would cause Pastner to lose his job and would ruin Pastner's reputation."
On Dec. 5, according to the lawsuit, Bell sent four new text messages to Georgia Tech's outside counsel, in which he complained about not being paid. For the first time, Bell also claimed that Pastner had committed a serious felony crime, and that he was going to release the information to media outlets, including "60 Minutes."
The next day, Bell told a member of the NCAA enforcement staff that Pastner had sexually assaulted his girlfriend.
"On information and belief, Bell became irate and angry with the NCAA enforcement staff representatives, demanded an apology, and made threatening statements that caused the NCAA enforcement staff representatives to end the call, cease contact with Bell, and decide that it would be unsafe to send an NCAA enforcement staff representative to Arizona to interview Bell in person," the lawsuit alleges.
On Dec. 11, Georgia Tech sent Bell a "Letter of Disassociation/No Trespass Order," which informed Bell that he is prohibited from contacting or attempting to contact any Georgia Tech student-athletes, coaches or athletics administrators, and notified Bell that he is prohibited from being on any Tech property.
"The evidence is clear that Josh -- at no time -- knew of, or participated in, the alleged NCAA violations," Pastner's attorneys said in a statement. "In fact, the evidence shows that Josh demanded compliance with NCAA rules and that when allegations were brought forward, he immediately contacted the appropriate compliance staff at Georgia Tech.
"The evidence is also clear that Josh -- at no time -- acted inappropriately with Ms. Pendley. Josh first became aware of potentially false allegations of sexual assault against him after Mr. Bell mentioned it in a phone call with the NCAA in December -- a call that the NCAA staff had to end out of fear for their own safety. Josh immediately went to law enforcement to report the false allegation of assault."