SAN DIEGO — Chula Vista City councilmember Andrea Cardenas and her brother, Jesus Cardenas, pleaded not guilty to felony fraudulent charges in a downtown San Diego courtroom Thursday afternoon.

They are accused of fraudulently obtaining a six-figure PPP loan, which was intended to help companies pay their employees during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’ve charged them with a number of felony charges related to misuse of public funds,” Deputy District Attorney Chandelle Boyce said in an interview after the arraignment. “The Cardenas’ ran a political consulting firm, called Grassroots Resources. In 2021, they applied a paycheck protection program loan (a PPP loan) in the amount of a little over $170,000.” 

According to the six-page criminal complaint filed by the San Diego County District Attorney’s office, the Cardenas’ allegedly listed incorrect information on the application for the PPP loan. According to prosecutors, they listed employee and business information for their client, a marijuana dispensary, instead of for their own company.

The complaint accuses Andrea and Jesus of using some of the money to pay American Express bills and pay nearly $34,000 to Andrea’s city council campaign.

“With the filing of this case, I think it’s clear that we are watching and when we learn of elected officials or government officials engaging in criminal misconduct, we will file charges,” Boyce said.

Andrea’s attorney said he could not say if Andrea plans to run for re-election, but said she has no plans of leaving her position on Chula Vista City Council right now.

“She does not plan to step down, she plans on fighting these charges,” Andrea’s attorney Pedro Bernal said.

Chula Vista’s municipal code said a councilmember would be vacated from their position if they are convicted of a felony.

Their next court appearance is set for January 2024. They are not in custody and are out on their own recognizance. They do have to go through the court’s booking process before their next court hearing in January.