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Chula Vista City Councilwoman Andrea Cardenas responds to fraud charges

Posted at 11:40 AM, Nov 08, 2023

SAN DIEGO (CNS) - Chula Vista City Councilwoman Andrea Cardenas spoke out for the first time Monday about fraud charges against her and her brother, while two top city officials called on her to resign.

The councilwoman and her brother, Jesus Cardenas, were charged with felony counts of conspiracy to commit a crime, money laundering, and other charges stemming from an alleged fraudulent loan for their political consulting business, the San Diego County District Attorney's Office announced on Nov. 1.

"On Wednesday, November 1, 2023, the District Attorney's Office notified my brother, Jesus Cardenas, and myself, that they had filed a number of serious charges against us," Andrea Cardenas said in a statement provided to City News Service. "We became aware of many of the details of these allegations through local media outlets, who received a full copy of the complaint before we did.

"Our American judicial system is built on the fundamental principle that our citizens are innocent until proven guilty," she continued. "As someone who has spent more than half of my life working to support and elevate my community, I understand and respect the critical work that our District Attorney's Office does to uphold the law. While the DA's Office is tasked with the responsibility to protect our community and prosecute abusers of the law, as defendants, we are afforded the right to prove our innocence.

"My intent has never been to harm or disappoint those who believed in me, both in life and at the ballot box. Many conversations are taking place around me about me and what others think is the best way for me to move forward. I would like to make one thing very clear -- my commitment to my community continues. 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."

RELATED: Chula Vista councilwoman, brother face fraud charges over COVID relief loan

According to a criminal complaint, the siblings fraudulently obtained a $176,227 Paycheck Protection Program loan in early 2021 intended for their firm, Grassroots Resources.

The complaint states that Jesus Cardenas, 40, misrepresented the number of employees, misrepresented what type of business it was, and said the PPP funds would go towards employee retention and payroll, when the funds were actually used for personal expenses.

Andrea Cardenas, 31, allegedly submitted the business license and payroll calculation data for another company, marijuana dispensary Harbor Collective, and claimed it was information for Grassroots Resources, according to the complaint.

After receiving the loan, the complaint details several occasions in which the siblings allegedly used the loan funds to make credit card payments, payments to a Venmo account, and a $33,500 check to Andrea Cardenas' Chula Vista City Council campaign account.

Chula Vista Mayor John McCann called on Cardenas to resign her council seat Monday.

"After reviewing the charges against Councilmember Cardenas and considering the serious nature of the alleged crimes, it is clear to me that she must resign from the City Council. Ensuring public trust is crucial for all elected officials. Maintaining that trust under the current circumstances is simply impossible," McCann said in a statement.

Deputy Mayor Jose Preciado followed suit, saying, "Andrea has the right to due process and the presumption of innocence in court, but the right thing for her to do now is to resign from the City Council."

The siblings, who are slated to be arraigned Thursday in downtown San Diego, are also charged with grand theft for allegedly taking funds from the Small Business Administration, and face additional charges of failing to file tax returns.

Jesus Cardenas, who served as chief of staff for San Diego City Councilman Stephen Whitburn until his resignation earlier this year, faces up to four years and four months in prison if convicted. Andrea Cardenas faces up to five years and eight months if convicted of all charges.

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