An Oro Valley couple are facing federal charges for trying to extort former Arizona Wildcats basketball player Josh Pastner, officials said Tuesday.
Ronald Bell and Jennifer Pendley were charged on Aug. 24 with conspiracy to transmit an interstate threat, conspiracy to extort property and attempted extortion, according to a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Georgia.
Bell pleaded not guilty on Friday. The U.S. Attorney’s Office has filed a motion to have Bell detained during the trial, saying he poses a flight risk and they believe he could “threaten, harm, or intimidate a juror or potential witness.” according to court documents. The outcome of a hearing into the matter on Tuesday was not immediately available.
Attorneys for Bell and Pendley could not immediately be reached Tuesday for comment.
Between October 2017 and February 2018, Bell and his then-fiancée, Pendley, conspired and attempted to extort Georgia Tech, where Pastner is the men’s basketball head coach, as well as Pastner himself, according to the report. indictment. It was initially sealed, with the U.S. Attorney’s Office saying Bell and Pendley were unaware of the charges and posed a flight risk.
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The couple were arrested in Tucson last month.
In January 2018, Pastner filed a lawsuit against Bell and Pendley in Pima County Superior Court, claiming the couple defamed him after months of failed blackmail and extortion attempts. Bell and Pendley countersued Pastner, claiming in their lawsuit that the coach forced Pendley to perform a sex act in a Houston hotel room in February 2016 and groped her on several other occasions. She did not contact local police at the time, but reported the alleged assault to Oro Valley police in May 2019.
Pastner was never charged with a crime. An independent investigation paid for by Georgia Tech in 2018 cleared him of the sexual misconduct allegations, according to Star News records. The couple’s claims were further challenged when a key witness in their lawsuit against Pastner recanted.
Bell also demanded money from Georgia Tech officials in exchange for not reporting the alleged assault, federal officials said in the statement.
“(Bell and Pendley) have demanded a substantial payment in exchange for a retraction of the claim,” U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Buchanan said in the statement. “The Federal Bureau of Investigation and our other federal law enforcement partners are uniquely adept at exposing false allegations designed to extort money.”
In July, an Oro Valley judge found Bell guilty of six misdemeanor counts in connection with the allegations against Pastner. He was found guilty of two counts of soliciting to influence a witness and attempting to tamper with a witness. He was also found guilty of false information and facilitating fraud, schemes and practices. Bell is currently appealing these convictions.
In March 2019, Bell was charged with seven counts related to the legal fight: one count of soliciting a fraudulent scheme practice, two counts of attempting to tamper with a witness, two counts of soliciting to influence a witness and two counts of using an electronic device to intimidate or threaten Pendley.
Pendley was charged with five misdemeanors in connection with her alleged involvement in the scheme, but they were dismissed.
Pastner settled his lawsuit against the couple in August 2019.
“Again, greed doesn’t pay,” Keri Farley, FBI Atlanta Special Agent in Charge, said in the press release. “These defendants have sought to damage the reputation of the institution and the coach for their own financial gain. The FBI will not stop bringing to justice those who attempt to commit this type of fraud.”
Contact star reporter Caitlin Schmidt at 573-4191 or [email protected]