Since its inception in 2015, the Public Integrity Unit of the Fresno County District Attorney’s office has charged 15 individuals. Three of them were publicly elected officials.
The most recent is possibly the most high-profile case — charging Fresno City Councilman Nelson Esparza with two counts related to allegations of attempted extortion of the Fresno city attorney.
Since Esparza was charged, the Fresno County Democratic Party among others, alleged that District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp used her office to punish those she politically disagrees with.
Smittcamp has vehemently denied such accusations of bias.
The District Attorney’s office released data on the PIU following a request for records from GV Wire. While saying that disclosing such information is revealing privileged information, “this Office is aware of the public interesting surrounding the Public Integrity Unit in Fresno County at this time.”
Esparza is a well-known Democrat. Although he has not commented on his case, several others have on his behalf. Fellow Fresno City Councilman Miguel Arias has been open in his criticism of Smittcamp and his allegations that she is biased against Democrats, and politicians of color.
An election database revealed that at least one of the elected officials — a school board member charged with fraud — appears to be listed as a Republican.
The party of another school board member charged with fraud is unknown.
What the Data Shows
The PIU received 198 complaints or referrals since 2015, the District Attorney’s office said.
“Complaints include but are not limited to phone calls, emails, personal interviews, or letters from the public and received by PIU. This number represents complaints or referrals that the unit has had some degree of action on,” the District Attorney’s office said.
Of those complaints, they launched 86 investigations that resulted in 15 individuals being charged.
“An investigation means further inquiry into the matter or a referral to another outside agency,” the DA’s office said.
Many of the complaints are anonymous, the DA’s office said. “It makes it challenging for the unit to further investigate. For example, if no crime is stated in the complaint, or further information is needed, there is no one to contact.”
Of the 15 cases, 10 have been adjudicated and five remain active — including Esparza, scheduled for arraignment on Oct. 27.
Of the 10 that have been adjudicated, all received punishment of some type.
The most common crime the PIU charged is embezzlement, found in eight of the 15 cases.
In addition to Esparza, two other defendants were elected leaders. Presentacion Sanchez was the first to be charged by the PIU — four counts of perjury and filing a false candidate document in 2015. Sanchez won two terms on the Golden Plains Unified school district board in 2010 and 2014.
The District Attorney’s office accused Sanchez of lying about his home address when filing papers to run in 2014.
Sanchez pleaded no contest to one count and was sentenced to 25 days in jail in 2017.
Luciana Duarte (also known as Luciana Moody) was a West Park Elementary school district trustee, winning a 2016 election. She was charged in 2018 with filing a false candidate document, accused of not living within the school district. She made a deal to serve 50 hours of community service.
Other Public Officials Charged
Other defendants were not elected but held prominent roles. David Elias was the city manager of Fowler. He faced 14 counts of embezzlement and pleaded no contest to two counts. He was sentenced to 270 days of electronic monitoring.
Steven Rapada was a staffer for Fresno County Supervisor Sal Quintero. Rapada was charged with conflict of interest for negotiating a land deal with a developer for the former University Medical Center in southeast Fresno. He was sentenced this year to one year probation and community service.
Gerardo Alvarez, the former superintendent of Parlier Unified, is charged with three counts of embezzlement. His case remains active.
The remaining defendants were government employees not in a political role, accused of wrongdoing.