Georgia Tech's Josh Pastner is firing back. The Yellow Jackets head coach is attempting to prove he had no knowledge of the NCAA violations two of his players violated by providing evidence in a civil lawsuit filed in Arizona against two former supporters.
Georgia Tech basketball supporter Ron Bell alleges Pastner had knowledge of the violations the school self-reported in which a person outside the program, Bell, provided benefits to Josh Okogie and Tadric Jackson. Bell detailed the allegations and benefits in a story to CBS Sports in November and stated it was more than the school reported.
Pastner is now suing Bell and his girlfriend, Jennifer Pendley, for defamation, intentional infliction, emotional distress, civil conspiracy and aiding and abetting injurious falsehoods. The head coach said the couple attempted to blackmail him so they wouldn't release information that they claim could cause Pastner to lose his job.
“I am disgusted and devastated by the actions of two individuals to whom I showed compassion. 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," Pastner said in a statement released through his lawyer.
When Georgia Tech did not fire Pastner following the NCAA violations because an investigation determined he did not have knowledge, the couple then claimed that Pastner assaulted Pendley. Pastner denies that allegation.
"I absolutely and unequivocally never assaulted or harassed Ms. Pendley and I am truly sickened by these false claims," Pastner said.
In the lawsuit obtained by 11Alive, lawyers characterize Bell as a supporter who was thankful for Pastner saving his life twice back in Arizona when he was suicidal and addicted to pain killers. However, they describe him as becoming needy for Pastner's attention and jealous when he did not receive the access to the Yellow Jackets' program he believed he deserved.
Despite emails telling Bell to be compliant and to check with him before providing any sort of gift to his players, Bell admitted to Pastner he provided benefits to his players and believed he should be properly compensated for his contributions to the program, according to the lawsuit. Bell previously acknowledged to Pastner he did not work for him in an email quoted in the lawsuit from April of 2017.
After Pastner cut off communication with Bell and his girlfriend, Bell went to the media about Pastner's alleged knowledge of the violations and alleged assault.
In the lawsuit, in which Pastner is seeking punitive damages in the amount determined by a jury in Pima County, Arizona where Bell and Pendley live, there are several examples provided of Bell's past that show his complicated criminal history which includes more than four years in prison for a felony narcotics conviction. It also claims Bell allegedly made up stories of assault, including an allegation against his own mother. Pastner claims he did not know about Bell's prison time until the lawsuit.
The other examples provided in the 47-page lawsuit also depict how Bell made up a terminal illness to get Pastner's support, was in situations in which people and partners attempted to get away from Bell, made death threats and lies he has made to police, among other things.
11Alive was able to get in touch with Bell to request comment. Bell would not comment on Monday but said he would release "the truth with evidence" as soon as he and his girlfriend were represented by a lawyer.
A Clean Program
In texts and emails sent to Pastner in September of 2017 and are quoted in the lawsuit, Bell complimented Pastner of running a clean program amid recent NCAA violations at the University of Arizona and the FBI probe on college basketball.
"You honestly might be the last Coach running a clean program," Bell said in one of the text messages. "I am very proud of you Josh. The fact that your 'reputation' and people in the know, know that much about you is why I love you so much. Your integrity and character is what I strive for on a daily basis. That's why you are so important to my well-being."
When Bell began following Pastner's program at Memphis, Pastner invited him to a practice in February of 2016. He was attempting to be supportive since he was under the impression Bell was suffering from an illness.
In an email sent on Feb. 9, 2016, Pastner reminded Bell about NCAA compliance:
"Also, just a reminder on two things: 1) 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."
Emails quoted in the lawsuit also showed Pastner warned the compliance office about Bell visiting and that he told him not to give "a meal, a dollar, a t-shirt, cookies, or anything else" without asking.
After the two had their falling out on October 2, 2017, Bell told Pastner by phone that he had information of NCAA violations that would get him and his program in trouble. According to the lawsuit and his statement, Pastner immediately contacted his sport supervisor and compliance officer to inform them of Bell's threats and begin an investigation.
Meanwhile, Bell was allegedly threatening Pastner, telling him TMZ had offered him $55,000 for the story.
Later on Oct. 2, Pastner asked his team if anyone had accepted gifts from Bell. Okogie and Jackson admitted to accepting shoes, and they eventually admitted to Bell taking them out to dinner and Bell paying for plane tickets to visit his home in Tuscon. Pastner immediately reported the violations, according to the lawsuit. Georgia Tech's statement said Pastner was aware of the violations in October of 2017.
According to the lawsuit, the two players said that Bell told them not to tell Pastner about the benefits.
"I had no prior knowledge of any improper benefits given to any student-athlete at Georgia Tech. As I have done throughout my career when I have become aware of a potential violation, no matter how minor, I self-reported the alleged infraction to Georgia Tech compliance. Any assertion or allegation suggesting otherwise is simply false," Pastner said in a statement.
Georgia Tech announced the violations and suspensions for the players in November.
The falling out
According to emails and text messages quoted in the lawsuit, Bell constantly contacted Pastner. He would contact him about games and send messages of admiration.
Their relationship began in 2007 at Arizona. Bell told Pastner he was addicted to painkillers and was suicidal. Pastner referred him to a local facility to get help. The two did not stay in close touch, but in 2013, Bell reached out to Pastner when he was the head coach at Memphis. In 2014, Bell told Pastner he was ill with cancer. Pastner supported him, and that's how they reconnected after years apart.
When Pastner was hired at Georgia Tech, Bell continued to support Pastner and contacted him in the same manner as when he was coaching at Memphis.
On Dec. 3, 2016, Bell was upset when one of Pastner's assistants told Bell he could not eat with the team after the game, but could visit the dining area once the players were finished. Then on Feb. 21, Bell texted Pastner's wife stating that he saw on social media that Pastner allowed supporters to be in the locker room after the game. He had never been in the locker room. He claims he was also told by the same assistant to stay away.
Pastner called Bell later and is paraphrased as telling Bell 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." Pastner wanted Bell to just be a fan.
The final straw for Bell was a dispute about the assistant wanting one of the t-shirts Bell had made for Pastner and his staff as a 40th birthday present. After attempting to text Bell and telling him to be nice to the assistant, the two had a 33-minute phone call, and that's when Bell allegedly began making threats.
He eventually began contacting the media and claimed Pastner knew about the benefits he was providing. Bell emailed Pastner in November of 2017 telling him he had an interview with a national reporter and would release anything he had to "ruin your choir boy image" and "probably be enough for GT to fire you...," the lawsuit quotes.
Bell told Georgia Tech outside council that he spent about $20,000 trying to help and support the program, and he wanted what he was owed. If he was compensated, he said that he would tell the CBS Sports reporter "I made the whole thing up."
The article was published on Nov. 7.
When Georgia Tech did not fire Pastner because of the NCAA violations, Bell told the NCAA enforcement staff of a new allegation. On Dec. 6, Bell told the NCAA that Pastner had sexually assaulted his girlfriend, Pendley. Bell had not made that allegation before that phone call, according to the lawsuit.
The NCAA told Bell they had no jurisdiction to investigate sexual assaults. Bell supposedly became irate and made threatening statements which caused the NCAA to end the call. The NCAA made Georgia Tech's outside council aware of the allegation, and Pastner's council decided to take legal action against Bell for his alleged blackmail and extortion scheme in addition to defamation. Bell was issued a Letter is Disassociation and No Trespass Order by Georgia Tech.
It was believed Pastner and Pendley had a good relationship. Pendley had recently sent him a happy birthday message on Twitter before the fallout, and Pastner had donated $500 for a fundraising walk in Pendley's name.
Pastner's lawyers claim Bell has falsely accused his own mother in the past for sexual assault after a family dispute in 2016. They point to emails Bell sent to Pastner about his parents where he calls them "great people" as proof that he made the allegation up. Bell's father has an Order of Protection against Bell after Bell slapped his father during the dispute.
Bell's mother attempted to contact Pastner in July of 2017 to warn him about her son. When Pastner found out, he believed Bell's story about her sexually abusing him and did not contact her back.
Georgia Tech does not comment on pending legal cases, but did show support for Pastner.
"We are aware that Georgia Tech men’s basketball head coach Josh Pastner has filed a civil lawsuit in Arizona. Coach Pastner and his legal team have been keeping Georgia Tech fully appraised of the situation, and we support Coach Pastner in his efforts to address this personal matter. Georgia Tech does not comment on pending legal cases," the school told 11Alive in a statement.