Chula Vista City Council member Andrea Cardenas and her brother, Jesus Cardenas, pleaded not guilty Thursday to criminal charges stemming from an allegedly fraudulent federal loan.
The siblings are accused of fraudulently obtaining a $176,227 Paycheck Protection Program loan in early 2021 intended for their political consulting firm, Grassroots Resources, then using the funds on personal expenses.
Those expenses allegedly included a $33,500 check to Andrea Cardenas’ Chula Vista City Council campaign account.
The Cardenas siblings are accused of making several misrepresentations in order to secure the loan, including that they were using the funds to support 34 employees, when in reality those employees worked for a marijuana dispensary that was a Grassroots client.
Jesus Cardenas, 40, who served as chief of staff for San Diego City Council member Stephen Whitburn until earlier this year, faces up to four years and four months in prison.
Andrea Cardenas, 31, faces up to five years and eight months if convicted of all charges, which include conspiracy to commit a crime, money laundering, conspiracy to defraud, grand theft and failing to file tax returns.
The siblings have been allowed to remain out of custody on their own recognizance. They’re due back in court in early January.
While some Chula Vista leaders have called for her resignation, Andrea Cardenas remains on the City Council.
Her defense attorney, Pedro Bernal, told reporters after Thursday afternoon’s arraignment that his client “does not plan to step down. She plans on fighting these charges.”
Bernal continued, “She’s represented her constituents for a long time and she’s served her community for many years. And she plans on continuing to do that.”
In a statement issued earlier this week, Cardenas said she hopes “to be given an opportunity by the media, folks in political circles, and, most importantly, my constituents to defend myself.”
– City News Service