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Chula Vista Councilwoman and her brother charged with alleged PPP fraud

The Chula Vista city council member and her brother, a political consultant, are charged with felonies including theft and money laundering. KPBS reporter Jacob Aere looks at what implications this has for South Bay politics.

Chula Vista City Councilmember Andrea Cardenas and her brother, Jesus Cardenas, have been 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 Wednesday.

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.

Andrea Cardenas was elected in 2020 with her brother’s help. She’s up for re-election in March.

“She has the option of resigning,” said Southwestern College political science professor Phil Saenz. “Of course I think that's probably what's in the best interest of her district. If these scandals remain and not go away, it keeps her from being able to just focus on the issues that are in the city.”

Saenz said trust needs to be restored in our fragile democracy.


“I know that it's impacted the perception that people have about voting and politicians,” Saenz said. “I mean, right now with the division that we have at the national level, and even the state and local level, all that we need for democracy is more scandal and turn more people away from voting.”

University of San Diego political science professor Carl Luna said this isn’t a good look for the Democratic party as Jesus raised money for a variety of elected officials.

“(The) Democratic party really needs to sever ties and do an internal reflection on it to show the public this was a limited contamination – it's not endemic to their whole power structure,” Luna said.

There is no comment at this time from the City of Chula Vista.

The siblings, who are slated to be arraigned next 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 Councilmember Stephen Whitburn until his resignation earlier this year, faces up to four years and four months in prison. Andrea Cardenas faces up to five years and eight months if convicted of all charges.