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

Posted at 6:53 AM, Nov 02, 2023
and last updated 2023-11-02 09:53:59-04

CHULA VISTA, Calif. (KGTV) — Chula Vista City Councilwoman Andrea Cardenas and her brother, Jesus Cardenas, face several felony charges after authorities said they used over $175,000 in COVID relief money for personal use.

In the six-page complaint filed Wednesday, the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office detailed charges against the siblings, which include grand theft, money laundering, conspiracy to defraud, and failure to file a tax return.

The brother and sister are accused of obtaining COVID relief aid, more commonly known as Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans, for $176,227 and using the funds for personal expenses.

Andrea, 31, is accused of using a portion of that money for her campaign to run for the Chula Vista City Council seat. Forty-year-old Jesus is accused of using his political consulting business, Grassroots Resources, to obtain the loan.

The complaint states that Jesus misrepresented the number of Grassroots Resources 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 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.

Jesus resigned as chief of staff for San Diego City Councilman Steve Whitburn earlier this year.

News of the charges against the councilwoman and her brother moved quickly through the South Bay.

"That is not the whole Democratic Party. We as a whole will be able to address this and be able to make sure that we rectify anything that has gone wrong," said Delfina Gonzalez, who ran against Andrea Cardenas in 2020 and is once again running for the City Council seat. 

Cardenas' colleague, Councilmember Jose Preciado, spoke of the charges Wednesday at an unrelated city event, saying he was "saddened" by the news.

"I just hope the system and the process helps us all understand how to move forward," said Preciado. 

Chula Vista Mayor John McCann declined to comment. 

Some members of the community are now calling for Andrea Cardenas' resignation. 

"She needs to resign and take her people with her, and we need to get new people that actually care for the community," one Chula Vista resident said.

Andrea Cardenas did not respond to ABC 10News' requests for comment. She and her brother will be arraigned next Thursday at 1:30 p.m. in downtown San Diego.

Jesus faces up to four years and four months in prison. His sister faces up to five years and eight months if convicted of all charges.

City News Service contributed to this report