FRESNO, Calif. (KSEE/KGPE) – Fresno Council President Nelson Esparza has filed a defamation lawsuit against Councilmember Garry Bredefeld over accusations of extortion.

The suit alleges that Bredefeld made malicious statements last week that he knew were false.

“I will never be intimidated by speaking the truth,” said Bredefeld.

“At some point, you have to say enough is enough,” said Esparza’s campaign strategist, Michael Trujillo.

The animosity towards council members is moving from the council chambers to the Fresno court as tensions rise at city hall.

Esparza wouldn’t go on camera but had our station speak to his campaign strategist Michael Trujillo. Trujillo said the lawsuit sends a message.

“Hopefully Councilmember Bredefeld comes back down to earth and stops floating his crazy conspiracy theory balloon because that is where he is at. His head is in the clouds,” said Trujillo.

The lawsuit comes just 72 hours after Councilmember Bredefeld accused Esparza of telling City Attorney Doug Sloan that Sloan had to work for the council majority or he would be fired.

“I have called out corruption at City Hall there is corruption at City Hall,” said Bredefeld. “This is nothing but an effort to intimidate and take away from the fact that Mr. Esparza attempted to extort our City Attorney according to our City Attorney.”

After the press conference, Sloan confirmed Bredefeld’s claims in an email, which stated that Esparza told Sloan “I’m just going to cut to the chase. I am standing between you and you losing your job. From now on you are to work only for the council majority.”

“There does seem that something bad has happened,” said Legal Analyst Thomas Holyoke. “Is it extortion? I am not sure but it does seem like there is a direct possibility of the abuse of power.”

In the lawsuit, Esparza denied the claims. The suit said: “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.”

Esparza’s Campaign Strategist said the allegations are politically motivated with the election only three weeks away.

“All of this by Councilmember Bredefeld is a distraction,” said Trujillo.

Fresno District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp would not go on camera to comment on the allegations but said her office has received a complaint alleging extortion claims and said that complaint is being reviewed.