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Fresno DA’s Office Explains How Slatic and Esparza Allegations Differ



The Fresno County DA's Office explains the differences in the Nelson Esparza (left) and Terry Slatic cases. (GV Wire Composite/David Rodriguez)
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The Fresno County District Attorney’s Office is defending its handling of allegations against former Fresno Unified trustee Terry Slatic, and how the case differs from that of another local public official, Nelson Esparza.

Slatic is accused of underreporting a meal from Superintendent Bob Nelson as a gift on his financial disclosure forms. The DA referred charges to the state’s political watchdog agency, the Fair Political Practices Commission.

“We felt that an administrative prosecution was the best avenue and that is primarily handled by the FPPC. That’s not something that my office normally does.”Prosecutor Victor Lai

As soon as GV Wire published the story Monday, the move received heavy criticism.

“Good to know DA Lisa wouldn’t charge her friend and supporter again,” wrote Fresno City Councilman Miguel Arias — a staunch critic of District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp — on Twitter.

Navkaran Gurm, a Fresno County Democratic Party activist wrote on Twitter that “Lisa Smittcamp and @FresnoDA once again failed to file charges against Terry Slatic.”

Victor Lai, the senior deputy district attorney in charge of the Public Integrity Unit, says referring the case to the FPPC was the right move.

“We did not believe that any criminal charges could be pursued by our office, at least based on charges or proof beyond a reasonable doubt,” Lai said in an exclusive interview with GV Wire.

Slatic is accused of underreporting a Dec. 2, 2021, meal purchased by Nelson and exceeding the yearly limit for accepting gifts ($520).

The trustee — whose term expired Dec. 9 — said he is waiting to speak with counsel before talking publicly, KMJ radio host Philip Teresi reported Monday.

Although criminal charges may have been out of reach, Lai said, Slatic could still be in jeopardy for not submitting correct information on his Form 700 — the annual financial disclosure report for elected officials.

“We felt that an administrative prosecution was the best avenue and that is primarily handled by the FPPC. That’s not something that my office normally does. They’re much more experienced in that type of thing. So given that they have the expertise in that area and that’s all that we could reasonably go after in our opinion, that’s why the referral was made,” Lai said.

Lai said that his office does have the ability to file civil lawsuits, but says that is not his office’s “expertise.”

Comparisons to Nelson Esparza Case

The case has been compared by critics to the DA’s handling of Fresno City Councilman Nelson Esparza. In July, Esparza was charged with a felony count of attempted extortion (later reduced to a misdemeanor by a judge), for allegedly telling the city attorney to “work only for the council majority” or face termination. A misdemeanor violation of the city charter was also part of the case. The DA dropped charges on Dec. 5.

Lai said there is a difference.

“The type of charges that Nelson Esparza was exposed to are not the type of charges that are handled by the FPPC and they’re not subject to administrative action. And that’s why they were in the province of this office,” Lai said.

“It comes down to what types of agencies handle what types of things. So that is a type of thing that is handled by the FPPC, whereas the charges surrounding Esparza were the type of thing that are handled by a local district attorney’s office,” Lai said.

Several left-leaning groups criticized Esparza’s prosecution, including the Fresno County Democratic Party. They cited a narrative that Smittcamp’s office only goes after Democrats, especially Democrats of color, while not prosecuting Republicans or conservatives.

She has denied those accusations.

Other Cases Involving Fresno Politicians

In 2019, the DA declined to press charges against Slatic for a physical altercation with a student at Bullard High School. That case was not investigated by the PIU. Slatic is registered as an American Independent.

Also that year, a jury acquitted Assemblyman Joaquin Arambula, a Fresno Democrat, of child abuse. That case was not prosecuted by the PIU.

In 2020, Smittcamp’s office declined to charge Arias with battery stemming from an altercation with far-right protesters at Arias’ downtown condominium.

“The District Attorney’s decision to not pursue the baseless claims made by out-of-town agitators was the right one,” Arias said at that time.

Curiosity drives David Taub. The award-winning journalist might be shy, but feels mighty with a recorder in his hand. He doesn't see it his job to "hold public officials accountable," but does see it to provide readers (and voters) the information needed to make intelligent choices. Taub has been honored with several writing awards from the California News Publishers Association. He's just happy to have his stories read. Joining GV Wire in 2016, Taub covers politics, government and elections, mainly in the Fresno/Clovis area. He also writes columns about local eateries (Appetite for Fresno), pro wrestling (Off the Bottom Rope), and media (Media Man). Prior to joining the online news source, Taub worked as a radio producer for KMJ and PowerTalk 96.7 in Fresno. He also worked as an assignment editor for KCOY-TV in Santa Maria, California, and KSEE-TV in Fresno. He has also worked behind the scenes for several sports broadcasts, including the NCAA basketball tournament, and the Super Bowl. When not spending time with his family, Taub loves to officially score Fresno Grizzlies games. Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, Taub is a die-hard Giants and 49ers fan. He graduated from the University of Michigan with dual degrees in communications and political science. Go Blue! You can contact David at 559-492-4037 or at Send an Email

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