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Fresno City Council President Nelson Esparza facing felony charge of attempted extortion

Fresno City Council President Nelson Esparza makes his re-election victory speech on the night of the June Primary.
Fresno City Council President Nelson Esparza makes his re-election victory speech on the night of the June Primary.

If convicted, it could lead to fines, jail time or up to three years imprisonment for the District 7 councilmember.

The Fresno County District Attorney’s office announced formal charges Monday against Fresno City Council President Nelson Esparza, including one of felony attempted extortion. Esparza is accused of allegedly threatening to fire former Fresno City Attorney Doug Sloan unless he agreed to work for the council majority.

In the complaint, Esparza is charged with a second count, one misdemeanor of attempting to violate section 803 of the Fresno City Charter by trying to restrict the services of the city attorney to just some members of the council. In May, Sloan announced he had accepted a new position as the city attorney for Santa Monica.

The Fresno County DA’s spokesperson said a complaint was submitted to its public integrity unit which looks into conduct in public office. The unit decided to pursue charges after investigating.

Esparza did not immediately respond to phone calls but issued a statement from his spokesperson, Mike Trujillo:

“Council President Nelson Esparza is going to continue to focus on the issues that matter the most to District 7 and the City of Fresno: more infrastructure, more housing, public safety, and economic development. He looks forward to the forthcoming process and proving his innocence.”

Council member Garry Bredefeld who first accused Esparza about an extortion attempt also issued a statement on his Twitter account reading in part: “I believe in the Constitution, due process, and look forward to justice and accountability.”

Esparza initially filed a defamation lawsuit against Bredefeld for his accusations, but in late June, announced he had dropped the lawsuit to avoid potential costs to the city after learning that city dollars would pay to defend Bredefeld as an individual. In response to Esparza’s announcement, Bredefeld’s lawyer planned to file another court motion to order Esparza to reimburse the city for any legal costs incurred to file the lawsuit.

Mayor Jerry Dyer responded to the DA’s announcement with this official statement Monday:

“This type of concerning news can cause the community to lose confidence in its government and question the integrity of public officials. I want to reassure the public that we in city government will continue to do all we can to maintain their trust and confidence by delivering on the promises we have made to them.”

If convicted, Esparza could face fines, jail time or up to three years imprisonment in state prison.

Soreath Hok is a multimedia journalist with experience in radio, television and digital production. She is a 2022 National Edward R. Murrow Award winner. At KVPR she covers local government, politics and other local news.
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