Chula Vista council member, brother plead not guilty to felony fraud charges

Chula Vista Councilmember Andrea Cardenas and her brother, Jesus Cardenas, founder of a political consulting firm that has helped elect many officials across San Diego County, pleaded not guilty Thursday to multiple felony charges.

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The siblings entered their pleas during an arraignment in San Diego Superior Court.

The pair are accused of defrauding the U.S. government in February 2021 — two months after the first-term council member was elected — of $176,227 in COVID-19 relief funds provided to Grassroots Resources, the firm Jesus Cardenas started and that employed his sister.

Specifically, the Cardenases allegedly falsified their application for the money by claiming that more than two dozen people who worked at a separate cannabis dispensary were employers of Grassroots Resources. According to a criminal complaint District Attorney Summer Stephan filed last week, they then laundered tens of thousands of dollars to pay off credit card bills and Andrea Cardenas’ campaign debt, and used the money for personal expenses.

They also conspired, prosecutors say, with “another person and persons whose identity is unknown.”

“We charge the defendants in this case with multiple felony counts related to the misuse of public funds,” said Chandelle Boyce, deputy district attorney.

The arraignment lasted less than 10 minutes. Andrea Cardenas is represented by criminal defense attorney Pedro Bernal and Jesus Cardenas by criminal defense lawyer Fernanda Ezquerro, who said it is typical that each person has their own counsel “to avoid any appearance of impropriety or undue influence between themselves.” Ezquerro said it is too early to consider separating the case in two.

Speaking to reporters outside the courtroom after the Cardenases left, Bernal said both parties have yet to receive evidence and exchange information that may be used in future proceedings. Andrea Cardenas does not plan to relinquish her City Council seat, he said.

“She plans on fighting these charges,” Bernal said. “So we plan to review the evidence in the case and fight as much as we can.”

Thursday’s arraignment comes after mounting calls for her resignation. Various boards on which she serves have started discussing what ramifications the allegations may have.

Chula Vista Mayor John McCann and Deputy Mayor Jose Preciado issued statements Monday, saying their council colleague should step down to maintain public trust.

The San Diego Association of Governments, the regional planning agency on which Andrea Cardenas serves as a board member representing Chula Vista, may soon hold a public discussion about her ability to continue in that role. And the San Diego County Democratic Party will reconsider its31-15 vote endorsing her re-election campaign.

Andrea Cardenas said Monday the District Attorney’s Office notified her and her brother of the charges the day they were filed.But they had learned of the details of the allegations only through local media outlets. She also said that as “we move forward in this process, I hope to be given an opportunity by the media, folks in political circles, and, most importantly, my constituents to defend myself.”

If convicted of all charges, Andrea Cardenas, 31, could receive up to five years and eight months in state prison. She faces two additional counts of failing to file tax returns besides five other counts she faces with her brother. Jesus Cardenas, 40, faces up to four years and four months in custody.

Click here to read the full article in the SD Union Tribune


  1. Treva Bennett says

    Jail is fine if guilty. However there needs to be restitution. This is happening far too often. I’m thinking we might need to start polygraphing our representatives on an annual basis, and a lifetime ban of government employment, immediate termination with no further benefits period. If they are willing to steal then they sacrifice pensions etc. Too many going into politics to raid the till.

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