An Arizona man was sentenced to nearly three years in prison after attempting to extort Georgia Tech by falsely accusing its men’s basketball coach of sexual assault.
Ronald Bell, 57, was sentenced Thursday to two years and nine months in prison followed by three years of supervised release, according to U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Buchanan. Bell pleaded guilty in March to conspiring to the extortion scheme with his co-defendant, Jennifer Pendley, and a Georgia Tech security guard.
Bell recruited a security guard to fabricate a claim that the guard witnessed Georgia Tech basketball coach Josh Pastner commit sexual assault. In exchange, the guard would be paid part of the extortion money Bell expected to receive from the university, estimated to be worth $20 million, and a new Jeep.
“Ronald Bell tried to extort Georgia Tech and ruin the reputation of its basketball coach,” U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Buchanan said in a press release. “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.”
In one text conversation, Bell warned the university that the situation would turn “ugly” if it failed to comply with his demands. He claimed to have attempted to resolve the incident amicably without damaging Georgia Tech’s reputation.
Bell demanded money from Georgia Tech in exchange for staying silent about the false sexual assault. But after the university refused to pay Bell, Pendley filed a lawsuit claiming to be the victim of sexual battery, sexual assault, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Pendley also falsely alleged that a guard witnessed the assault.
The guard later admitted that his statements were false and that Bell asked him to lie to support the fabricated claim against Pastner.
“Bell sought to severely damage the reputation of the institution and their coach solely for his own financial gain,” Keri Farley, Special Agent in Charge of FBI Atlanta, said in the press release. “This sentence proves that the FBI will not tolerate false allegations and will do everything in our power to seek the truth and hold individuals who commit these type of crimes accountable for their selfish actions.”
Pastner, who was previously an assistant coach at the University of Arizona, has been involved in litigation with Bell and Pendley since January 2018 after Pastner sued them for blackmail and defamation, accusing them of falsely claiming he broke NCAA rules.
The pair then countersued and falsely alleged Pastner sexually assaulted Pendley at a Houston hotel in 2016 while he was a coach at Memphis.
Georgia Tech conducted an independent investigation last year and found the sexual misconduct allegations had no merit.
It is unclear if Pendley or the security guard face charges in the case.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.