Extortion at Fresno City Hall? The mayor calls for an investigation

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Pictured are Fresno City Council Speaker Nelson Esparza, left, and Mayor Jerry Dyer, right.

Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer said Friday that a law enforcement agency must investigate allegations that Fresno City Council Speaker Nelson Esparza extorted city attorney Doug Sloan.

Council member Garry Bredefeld made the allegations Friday morning during a press conference. Bredefeld said Sloan told him firsthand what happened.

“If in fact it’s absolutely true, then it needs to be investigated for one or two reasons,” Dyer said.

“Either to demonstrate that there was criminal activity or that there was no criminal activity. But the only way that can happen is through a criminal investigation.

Earlier Friday, Esparza said Bredefeld’s allegations were false, unsubstantiated and lacking in evidence.

“This latest tantrum comes with the irony that Bredefeld is the only council member who knowingly armed city personnel and resources, including the city attorney’s office, for political gain and attention. media,” Esparza said.

Dyer said Sloan expressed his frustration to him about the working environment with the city council. On April 28, Sloan asked Dyer to be a reference when applying for a job in Santa Monica, Dyer said.

“I am convinced that this is the result of all this. He made the decision that he was going to look elsewhere,” Dyer said.

Dyer said he heard rumors about the allegations before Bredefeld’s press conference, but was unaware of any law enforcement investigation.

Dyer said Sloan did not directly tell him about the alleged conversation in which Esparza allegedly extorted him.

It remains unclear which law enforcement agency, if any, is investigating the allegations.

Fresno police are not investigating them, department officials told The Bee.

Fresno County District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp’s office did not confirm whether her office was actively investigating. Sloan did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

The allegations are the latest in Bredefeld’s attacks on four council members he dubs “the corrupt gang of four”.

The four board members — Miguel Arias, Nelson Esparza, Tyler Maxwell and Esmeralda Soria — are Democrats and often form a majority on the board.

Bredefeld is the only Republican on the city council and frequently votes the only “no” on agenda items.

Allegations of wrongdoing by board members in the past have sparked investigations by Smittcamp’s office. However, so far none of the council members have been charged with any crime.

Smittcamp once discovered that council members may have violated the city’s municipal code, but said the city attorney refused to enforce the consequences.

The four council members accused both Bredefeld and Smittcamp of abusing their positions for political gain.

Bredefeld’s Friday press conference comes the same week that ballots for the June primary arrive in Fresno County voters’ mailboxes.

Sloan, in late April, tendered his resignation to the Fresno City Council. Since then, city officials announced that he was accepting a new job in Southern California.

Extortion allegations

Bredefeld alleged that the day after an April 21 closed session in which the city attorney’s job performance was evaluated, Esparza met Sloan alone in his office.

During the meeting, according to Bredefeld, Esparza told Sloan to no longer complete the work of Bredefeld Council members Luis Chavez or Mike Karbassi.

Esparza told Sloan he could only complete the job for him, Arias, Maxwell and Soria, Bredefeld said.

Esparza allegedly told Sloan that if Bredefeld, Chavez, or Karbassi asked him to work for them, Sloan should refuse and report to Esparza. He also allegedly told Sloan that he was the only one preventing Sloan’s firing, Bredefeld said.

Bredefeld said Sloan spoke to him directly about the reunion and he has met Sloan several times since then. Bredefeld said other city officials, including Mayor Jerry Dyer, were aware of the alleged meeting between Sloan and Esparza and what happened.

“That was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” Bredefeld said. “That’s why he left town and looked for another job.”

Bredefeld said he was concerned that the alleged extortion could negatively affect the city’s efforts to hire a new city attorney and the functions of the city attorney’s office. The city attorney is one of the two departments for which the city council has authority.

“I am extremely concerned about the impact this will have on the retention and retention of these high quality attorneys in the department, as well as the recruitment of other potentially high quality attorneys,” Bredefeld said.

“Equally, I am concerned for all of our city employees as they discover the level of this corruption and, frankly, criminality, coming from the chairman of the council as well as other corruptions from his gang of four.”

Esparza’s response

Esparza released his statement shortly after Bredefeld’s press conference, and he flatly denied the allegations.

Esparza said Bredefeld’s “latest charade” would negatively influence the hiring of the next city attorney “by muddying the waters with politics.”

“These ongoing tantrums of Councilman Bredefeld, particularly during an election season, will likely continue as he remains upset that different versions of the Fresno City Council bypassed him for leadership positions,” Esparza said.

“It has only served to further isolate himself and cast doubt on the good work being done at City Hall by so many of us who spend our time productively.”

This story was originally published May 13, 2022 3:01 p.m.

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Brianna Vaccari covers Fresno City Hall for The Bee, where she strives to hold officials accountable and shine a light on issues that deeply affect residents’ lives. She previously worked for The Bee’s sister newspaper, the Merced Sun-Star, and earned her bachelor’s degree from Fresno State.

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