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Fresno Councilman Pleads Not Guilty in Extortion Case



Fresno City Councilman Nelson Esparza (center) pleaded not guilty to two counts related to attempted extortion. (GV Wire/David Taub)
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Fresno City Councilman Nelson Esparza pleaded not guilty Thursday to two criminal charges related to an ill-fated conversation with the city attorney.

Esparza is charged with one felony count of attempted extortion and one misdemeanor count of violating the city charter. Both are related to a conversation with then-city attorney Douglas Sloan last April. Esparza allegedly told Sloan to only work for the council majority (Esparza and three other councilmembers) and not other councilmembers.

A motion to suppress evidence and dismiss the case was not decided during the morning Fresno Superior Court hearing.  The case returns to court Nov. 2 for a pre-preliminary hearing, which Esparza was not ordered to attend. His attorney Mark Coleman described it as a chance for the attorneys and judge to “address administrative issues.”

Esparza must attend a preliminary hearing on Nov. 10, where the motion may be decided.

“Obviously, we are disappointed that we’re experiencing this two week delay here. I was really looking forward to bringing this to a resolution today,” Esparza said to the media outside the courtroom after the hearing.

“I will look forward to bringing it to a speedy resolution then. We did answer a not guilty plea. Absolutely not guilty. We look forward to the opportunity to continue to demonstrate that,” Esparza said.

Councilman Nelson Esparza (center) talks to family and supporters after his not guilty plea on an attempted extortion charge. (GV Wire/David Taub)

District Attorney investigator Marshall Varela was also ordered to appear on Nov. 10.

Esparza’s Courthouse Comments

Several Supporters on Hand

Two City Council colleagues, several staff members and others packed Department 33 in the main criminal courthouse, in support of Esparza.

Councilmen Tyler Maxwell and Miguel Arias were there. So was Rob Fuentes, a candidate for the State Center Community College Board of Trustees.

“(I’m) definitely in support of the councilman,” Fuentes said outside the courthouse.

Judge Arlan Harrell presided for the day, in place of regular Judge Jon Kapetan.

No explanation was given for Kapetan’s absence. It caught Esparza’s legal team by surprise.

“I am unable to provide information on a judge’s, or any court personnel’s, schedule,” a court spokesperson told GV Wire.

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