Fresno city council president on extortion: 'No wrongdoing'

Nelson Esparza said he's not going anywhere and he's not guilty.

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Friday, July 22, 2022
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Fresno's city council president Nelson Esparza spoke on the attempted extortion charges Thursday, saying he's not going anywhere and he's not guilty.

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Fresno's city council president addressed the attempted extortion charges against him for the first time publicly Thursday.

Nelson Esparza said he's not going anywhere and he's not guilty.

The case against Esparza looms large at City Hall, but at least for now, it won't change anything about how the city does its business.

"The people's business will continue here at City Hall uninterrupted," Esparza said

He presided over Thursday's city council meeting - the same as he has every other meeting since taking over as council president in January.

But this time, he did it with a felony charge hanging over his head.

RELATED: Fresno City Council President Nelson Esparza charged with attempted extortion

Prosecutors filed an attempted extortion case against Esparza on Monday, accusing him of threatening to fire then-city attorney Doug Sloan unless Sloan worked exclusively for Esparza and the council majority.

Esparza said he committed no crime.

"Time and process will demonstrate that there has been no wrongdoing in the building," he said.

An arrest warrant declaration shows Sloan talked about the Esparza conversation with a couple of the attorneys in his office, and city manager Georgeanne White.

Councilmember Garry Bredefeld found out about it and after Sloan told Bredefeld he thought the conversation amounted to extortion, Bredefeld took the accusations public.

RELATED: Councilmember Garry Bredefeld accusing Nelson Esparza of extortion

That's when Sloan also emailed an Action News reporter about the conversation.

He said Esparza told him, "I'm just going to cut to the chase. I'm standing between you and you losing your job. From now on you are to work only for the council majority."

But public speakers at the city council meeting were skeptical.

"I know you're not doing anything, Nelson," said Fernando Elizondo, Sr. "I see they're trying to eliminate you, OK?"

"Nelson, I know you didn't do anything wrong," said Lisa Flores. "Hang tough. Stay tough. You have my support."

Councilmember Bredefeld didn't have anything to say publicly Thursday, but he scheduled a closed session discussion about the possibility of Esparza filing a lawsuit against the city.

The council returned from that back room meeting, said nothing about it, and moved on with their meeting with Esparza running it.

"And with that, I'd like to say 'Let's get back to work,'" Esparza said.

He said he's staying in his council president position and he intends to serve his entire term on council, which would last into 2027.

He's scheduled in court for the first time in September.