Concerned that he may have been a victim of extortion by the president of the Fresno City Council, then-city attorney Douglas Sloan told Mayor Jerry Dyer and other key city staff of the allegations.
The information comes from documents filed in the criminal case against Nelson Esparza, accused of one felony count of attempted extortion, and a misdemeanor count of violating the city charter. Esparza, who represents Fresno City Council District 7, faces up to three years in jail if convicted on the charges. His arraignment is scheduled for Sept. 20.
Sloan, in an interview with Fresno County District Attorney investigators, alleges Esparza told him in a private meeting to work only for certain city councilmembers, or risk being fired. If other councilmembers requested services from the city attorney’s office — as permitted in the City Charter — they should be reported to Esparza, according to Sloan.
Esparza has denied all wrongdoing. He also has a different recollection of the April 22 conversation in his office with Sloan. In addition to discussing Sloan’s overall job performance, Esparza said he was discussing new rules on councilmember interaction with the city attorney that had been unanimously approved at the previous day’s meeting.
Following his conversation with Esparza, Sloan reportedly referred to the council president as, “a little pissant millennial” in a conversation with City Manager Georgeanne White. The Miriam-Webster online dictionary defines pissant as “one that is insignificant —used as a generalized term of abuse.”
Sloan resigned as Fresno’s city attorney in early June to take the same position in Santa Monica. Court documents indicate his strife with Esparza contributed to Sloan’s decision to leave.
Court Documents: What Sloan, Others Said
Investigators asked Sloan “what his thought was” after the Esparza meeting. Sloan said “he felt this was extortion, being that Nelson (Esparza) threatened to fire him if he didn’t only work for selected Councilmembers.”
Although not referenced in the investigators’ declaration, Sloan also communicated with City Councilman Garry Bredefeld. The matter became public May 13, when Bredefeld held a news conference to detail the allegations.
Three days later, District Attorney senior investigators Marshall Varela and Brian Poulsen interviewed Sloan, in response to a complaint filed with their office. Although the court document does not reveal who submitted the complaint, Bredefeld has acknowledged he contacted the DA’s office and the FBI.
Among the first people Sloan told were Dyer, White, and other members of the city attorney’s office, the DA’s declaration said.
Starts with Closed Session Evaluation
On April 21, following approval of the resolution governing communication with the city attorney, the City Council met in a closed session to evaluate Sloan’s job performance — a routine occurrence. The council is responsible for hiring and firing the city attorney.
“(Sloan) asked everyone if they had any input and Esparza told him they would talk offline (meaning outside the room),” the declaration said.
The next morning, Sloan went to Esparza’s office at 10 a.m.
Sloan quoted Esparza as telling him, “I am standing between you and you losing your job and from now on you work only for the Council majority.”
Sloan told DA investigators he felt the directive amounted to extortion, “being that Nelson threatened to fire him if he didn’t only work for selected Councilmembers.”
Esparza did not name those who constituted the “majority,” Sloan told investigators.
Sloan said he drafted an email to an FBI agent, but opted not to send it because “he didn’t think there were any Federal laws involved.”
Sloan Allegedly Calls Esparza “Little Pissant Millennial”
Investigators interviewed others Sloan had spoken with, including White, the city manager.
According to White, Sloan told her, “If that little pissant millennial thinks he’s going to make me violate the Charter or my professional responsibility, he’s got another think [sic] coming.”
City Councilman Miguel Arias commented on the term “little pissant millennial” in a July 19 tweet, but did not identify who made the comment.
When white republican subordinate describes their boss, a person of color, as a “Little Pissant Millenial” It gives insight into how authentic beliefs manifest in professional work product & interactions. Mexican Cartel, Mexican Mafia, Gang of Four now Pissant. #bipocleadership
— Miguel Arias (@MiguelArias_D3) July 19, 2022
The DA’s declaration references interviews with three assistant attorneys at the city of Fresno: Erica Camarena, Katie Doerr and Tina Griffin. There is no mention of interviews with Dyer or Bredefeld.
Doerr said she told Sloan that Esparza’s request would violate the City Charter. Griffin, according to the declaration, said Sloan told the assistant attorneys “that he was leaving his position, in part, because of the conversation he had with Nelson Esparza.”
Following Sloan’s departure, the City Council appointed Senior Deputy City Attorney Rina Gonzales as interim city attorney.
Neither Sloan, Esparza nor White responded to GV Wire’s requests for comment.
Esparza Remains on Job, Denies Accusations
A judge issued a warrant for Esparza’s arrest on July 18, although it was later withdrawn. Esparza faced bail of $40,000, and paid at least $5,000, court records show. He was never formally arrested.
Esparza has refused to answer questions regarding the criminal charges when asked directly by GV Wire.
His only public comments came from the dais at the July 21 City Council meeting.
“Taking into consideration that time and process will demonstrate that there is, has been no wrongdoing in this building,” Esparza said. He said he has no plans to step down as council president or from the City Council.
Esparza previously told his side of the Sloan encounter when he filed a defamation lawsuit against Bredefeld over his public extortion accusation. Esparza later withdrew the suit.
According to Esparza, Sloan “made an unscheduled stop” at his office on April 22, the day after the closed session performance evaluation.
“Esparza informed Mr. Sloan that, in his assessment, several Councilmembers were displeased with the fact that his City Attorney’s office had been weaponized for partisan purposes by Councilmember Garry Bredefeld. Plaintiff further informed Mr. Sloan that he was not presently inclined to vote for termination but that, as a voting member of the Council he wanted to have reassurances that the previous night’s resolution would be complied with and abided by. 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 filing states.
Esparza was referring to legislation passed by the city council regarding use of the city attorney’s office.
“No Councilmember shall utilize the services of the City Attorney’s Office or contract counsel for the City for purposes of investigating or obtaining legal opinions concerning other Councilmembers or their actions,” the resolution said.
If a councilmember believed an investigation was warranted, the city council would discuss it in closes session before directing the city attorney.
The City Council discussed “potential litigation” by Esparza against the city in a closed session during the July 21 meeting. There was no report of any action taken on the matter following the meeting.