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Chula Vista councilmember resigns, new charges filed in criminal case

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

Chula Vista City Councilwoman Andrea Cardenas, who is accused with her brother of fraudulently obtaining a loan for their political consulting business, has resigned, and city leaders reacted Tuesday.

Cardenas sent a memo to colleagues Monday announcing her decision.

"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 Councilmember for our City's 4th District," she wrote. "It has been an honor and privilege to serve my community and work alongside all of you."


Cardenas and her brother, Jesus Cardenas, are now each facing an additional charge of grand theft in connection with allegedly 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.

Regarding the new grand theft count, Andrea Cardenas' defense attorney, Pedro Bernal, said his client is accused of applying for unemployment insurance without a valid reason.

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"Like millions of Americans, she applied for unemployment insurance during that period of time and we still have to review the evidence to see if mistakes were made," he said.

Bernal said negotiations took place Tuesday morning between the defense and the San Diego County District Attorney's Office toward "a resolution" to the case, but those discussions were not fruitful prior to the Cardenas' brief readiness conference that took place at the downtown San Diego courthouse.

Another hearing is scheduled for next week, by which time Bernal said the parties would "attempt to reach a resolution to this case."


The initial charges filed last year stem from allegations that the siblings 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 City Council campaign account.

The siblings have pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Bernal said it was "a difficult decision" for Cardenas to resign from the city council.

"Obviously, the last several months have taken a significant toll on her mental health and she wants to be able to focus on her health and on her mental health and make that a priority," Bernal said. "She knows that her fellow former city council members are going to be able to adequately represent her former constituents and that they'll do a good job for the citizens of Chula Vista."

Cardenas remains on the ballot for Chula Vista's District 4 council seat. Bernal said it was too late to remove her from the ballot, but Cardenas is not actively campaigning.

Some Chula Vista leaders including Mayor John McCann had called for her resignation.

Marco Verdugo, a Chula Vista city attorney candidate, said in a statement Monday that Cardenas' decision to resign was honorable.

"I was among the first to call for her resignation and, like so many Chula Vistans, I am relieved we can now begin the hard work of rebuilding trust at City Hall," Verdugo said. "Chula Vista taxpayers deserve better and this only strengthens my resolve to stamp out corruption in our city government."

Cesar Fernandez, a Chula Vista School Board member and Democratic candidate for the City Council District 4 seat, also issued a statement on the resignation.

"This is a pivotal moment for Chula Vista, and an opportunity for us to start fresh. I believe Councilmember Cardenas made the right decision by stepping down so the residents of District 4 can focus on what really matters: keeping our community safe, affordable, and fighting for Southwest Chula Vista's fair share from City Hall that has been long overdue," Fernandez said.

In a statement issued in early November of 2023, Cardenas said she and her brother "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. 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," she said.

"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."

Updated: February 20, 2024 at 12:36 PM PST