Fresno

Fresno’s Bredefeld, ‘Gang of Four’ launch into furious ethics debate over ex-staffer, bribery complaint

Fresno’s City Council is seldom short on fireworks, but the first hour of Thursday’s meeting may have set a record.

Four members on the Fresno City Council teamed up to assail Fresno City Councilman Garry Bredefeld to launch Thursday’s meeting over the resignation of one of his staffers following domestic violence charges. 

Council members Esmeralda Soria, Miguel Arias, Tyler Maxwell and Nelson Esparza – a liberal voting bloc that Bredefeld subsequently dubbed the “gang of four” – dedicated their reports to rain down fire on northeast Fresno councilman. 

Much of their comments centered on former Bredefeld staffer Daniel Gai, who pleaded no contest to five of seven felony domestic violence charges last week that stemmed from a May 2019 incident. 

Bredefeld forced Gai to resign last week as the trial concluded. According to reports, Judge Jeff Hamilton is expected to make a ruling later this month. 

Gai faces two charges of making criminal threats, and pleaded no contest to three counts of assault by means of force, one count of domestic battery with injury and one count of child endangerment. 

Soria started off the group’s rebuke of Bredefeld saying she has been the victim of abuse while serving on the council. 

“For far too long I myself have been afraid to speak up because of the emotional and psychological abuse I have been subjected to by one of my colleagues over the last few years,” Soria said. 

The District 1 Councilwoman, who appeared to be on the verge of tears for much of her remarks, said Bredefeld has intentionally engaged in a witch hunt against her over political disagreements and her refusal to vote for him last year to take the position of Council Vice President. 

I want to be a voice for others who suffer from abusive bullies,” Soria said. “Today I stand up for all women, including men and children who have been victims of some form of abuse, in particular domestic abuse victims.” 

Arias accused Bredefeld of spearheading a misinformation campaign during the COVID-19 pandemic and collaborating with extremists. 

The District 3 councilman also alleged that Bredefeld helped developer Cliff Tutelian draft a government claim against Arias and the city, which came to light earlier this week. In that claim, Tutelian accused Arias of running a “pay to play” scheme and extortion. 

Maxwell and Esparza added on to the rebuke, which partly focused on Bredefeld’s conduct during council meetings. 

“For many months – and for some, many years – we’ve sat up here and let Council member Bredefeld go on fantastical tirades about how every single leader in our city, excluding of course himself, is a ‘weak, feckless, spineless, corrupt, power hungry, disgraced tyrant.’ 

“And we continue to allow him to collect additional media headlines because we know for him that’s more important than passing actual policies that would help real Fresno families. But today we stop to hold a mirror up to our colleague because it’s time he sees that the very same accusations he throws around haphazardly reflect nobody more accurately than himself,” Maxwell said. 

Bredefeld fires back

In defense, Bredefeld argued back about the Gai situation, saying he believes in due process and the presumption of innocence. He asked Gai to resign once the no contest pleas were entered. 

“He has been an exemplary employee here for nearly five years, and I gave him the opportunity to have his day in court,” Bredefeld said. 

Bredefeld noted that Gai did not receive a severance and will not receive any retirement benefits from the city as he faces prison time. 

“These are the tragic consequences for engaging in such terrible and inexcusable behavior. There is never any excuse, no justification for domestic violence, or violence for that matter, ever,” Bredefeld said. 

“But I do believe when someone is charged with a crime – and perhaps some of the people up here may ultimately get charged with a crime – I would assume that they want due process. I assume that they would want presumption of innocence. But when the judicial process was completed, there needs to be accountability, and there was in this case. But accountability is not what the Gang of Four are interested in today.” 

The northeast Fresno lawmakers slammed his colleagues for dragging the victims of Gai’s crimes into the discussion that he said was really about political disagreements. 

“What is truly disgusting to me today is that they now have caused more pain and suffering on the real victim – my employee’s significant other, their child and other children in their family – and they did this for a political reason to try and score some cheap political points against me,” bredefeld said. 

“These are innocent people whose pain should not be exploited just to attack your political opponents. But it’s not surprising because this corrupt gang of four have displayed their unethical, immoral behavior over the past two and a half years, and I called it out.” 

Bredefeld rebuffed Arias for alleging that he helped Tutelian write the government claim, saying it was a lie. 

“There are accusations by Mr. Tutelian of extortion, attempts at bribery and pay to play schemes,” Bredefeld said. “Now either he’s lying or Arias is lying. Somebody’s lying, and I know who’s a pathological liar, and it isn’t Mr. Tutelian.” 

He also brought up the group’s relationship with developer and Granite Park operator Terance Frazier, who is also Soria’s fiancée. 

Recently, the Fresno City Council appeared primed to agree to a $4.3 million settlement payout to Frazier over a lawsuit he has with the city, but Fresno County District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp stepped in the day before, advising the council to not take any action due to an investigation that she is undergoing regarding potential violations of the Brown Act by some council members. 

“That taxpayer money would’ve paid off Frazier’s $2.3 million in debts he owed because he doesn’t pay his debts, and then fronted him another $2 million, making he and Council member Esmeralda Soria instant millionaires courtesy of the taxpayers that didn’t owe him not one penny, not one,” Bredefeld said. 

Bredefeld continued, “The facts are this: City Hall is a swamp full of sleazy and unethical if not outright criminal behavior. That’s why we received a letter from DA Smittcamp, and that’s why there’s investigating going on.” 

Daniel Gligich is a reporter for The San Joaquin Valley Sun, focusing on Fresno State Athletics and the southern San Joaquin Valley. Email him at daniel.gligich@sjvsun.com.