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Ex-Chula Vista councilmember pleads guilty to theft charges

Chula Vista City Councilmember Andrea Cardenas is shown at a City Council meeting on Dec. 12, 2023
Kori Suzuki for KPBS
California Local
Chula Vista City Councilmember Andrea Cardenas is shown at a City Council meeting on Dec. 12, 2023

Former Chula Vista City Councilwoman Andrea Cardenas and her brother Jesus pleaded guilty today to two felony counts of grand theft for fraudulently obtaining a COVID-relief loan for their political consulting business and using the money for personal expenses, and for unlawfully obtaining state unemployment benefits.

Both are expected to land on probation, with the chance to have the charges reduced to misdemeanors, but on different timetables.

Sentencing for Andrea Cardenas, 32, was scheduled for Aug. 28, when her attorneys will be able to ask a judge to reduce the two felony charges to misdemeanors. She is expected to be sentenced to probation, although it was unclear for how long.


Jesus Cardenas, 41, will be sentenced March 27. He is expected to be sentenced to two years probation, and after that time he will be able to ask that the charges be reduced to misdemeanors, assuming he successfully completes probation.

As part of their pleas, six other felony counts of conspiracy, money laundering and failing to file tax returns will be dismissed. They will also be required to pay restitution.

The pair were initially charged last year, with prosecutors saying they fraudulently obtained a $176,227 Paycheck Protection Program loan in early 2021 intended for their firm, Grassroots Resources, then used the funds on personal expenses, including a $33,500 check to Andrea Cardenas' Chula Vista ity Council campaign account.

Last week, prosecutors added another grand theft count for taking funds unlawfully from the state's Employment Development Department sometime between April and December of 2020, during the early months of the coronavirus pandemic.

The grand theft counts that the siblings pleaded to on Wednesday represent thefts from the Small Business Administration and the state's Employment Development Department.


Andrea Cardenas' defense attorney, Pedro Bernal, said his client was "remorseful for what she's done," but added, "that doesn't take away from the service that she's given to her community."

Bernal said he looked forward to arguing this summer that Andrea Cardenas should be sentenced on misdemeanor counts on the basis of her history of public service and lack of prior criminal history.

Cardenas resigned her council seat Feb. 19.

"In an effort to prioritize my mental health, and the health of my community, I have made the very difficult choice to formally resign effective immediately from my position as council member for our city's 4th District," she wrote in a memo. "It has been an honor and privilege to serve my community and work alongside all of you."