Fresno city council president sues councilmember for defamation over 'extortion' claims

"The statements and accusations made by Garry Bredefeld were knowingly false and were made with malice," the lawsuit says.
FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- The bubbling tension among Fresno city council members has exploded since Garry Bredefeld lobbed accusations of "extortion" at council president Nelson Esparza last week.

On Monday, Esparza filed a defamation lawsuit against Bredefeld.

"The statements and accusations made by Garry Bredefeld were knowingly false and were made with malice," the lawsuit says.

On Friday, Bredefeld held a press conference where he claimed Esparza told city attorney Doug Sloan he could only work with councilmembers Esparza, Miguel Arias,Tyler Maxwell and Esmeralda Soria and should not listen to Bredefeld, Luis Chavez and Mike Karbassi or he would be fired.

"Esparza may think and act like he's Al Capone, but he's simply one councilmember whose job as council president is essentially to preside over council meetings," Bredefeld said. "It isn't to extort charter officials with threats of firing them if they don't do his bidding."

Sloan later confirmed to Action News that he had an April 22 conversation with Esparza resembling Bredefeld's claim.

"I'm just going to cut to the chase," Sloan says Esparza told him. "I'm standing between you and you losing your job. From now on, you are to work only for the council majority."
In his lawsuit against Bredefeld, Esparza confirmed he met with Sloan on April 22, which was the day after Sloan's employee performance evaluation.
"At no time did plaintiff Esparza direct, order, imply or suggest to Mr. Sloan that he should work only for 'the majority' of the Council or only for any certain Councilmembers to the exclusion of any others," the lawsuit says.

A spokesperson for Esparza says Bredefeld has repeatedly made baseless accusations against his political enemies and the lawsuit says Bredefeld knows the extortion claims are false.

"Enough was enough and so Councilman Esparza felt like he was being defamed and felt like this lawsuit pushed back and says I'm not going to be your piñata, here for you to take free swings at,'" said Mike Trujillo.

Esparza's suit also notes that during Sloan's performance evaluation the day before, councilmembers expressed concerns about the city attorney's office being "weaponized for partisan purposes by Garry Bredefeld."

Bredefeld told us the lawsuit won't keep him from talking about Esparza.

"As far as I'm concerned, bring it on," he said.

Sloan's email to Action News didn't call his interaction with Esparza "extortion", but Bredefeld says Sloan brought it up with him.
"These are Mr. Sloan's words to me in terms of feeling extorted," Bredefeld said. "These were his words. Mr. Sloan gave me the penal code for extortion and felt it rose to that level."

Esparza's lawsuit says Bredefeld is making these statements "knowing them to be false and to be the product of hostile witnesses."

Legal analyst Tony Capozzi says filing the lawsuit may be a good political tactic for Esparza, but it'll be a tough case to prove in court.

"The big issue here is whether or not these statements were made," Capozzi said. "Truth is a defense to defamation, a complete defense."

As it's filed, the lawsuit is between two individuals. Taxpayers would not foot any legal bills.

Esparza is up for re-election in just a few weeks.

The lawsuit most likely wouldn't go to trial for a year or longer.
Copyright © 2022 KFSN-TV. All Rights Reserved.