Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to include a statement from Mayor John McCann and Councilmember Andrea Cardenas issued after initial publication.
CHULA VISTA, Calif. — Chula Vista city officials are now calling on City Councilmember Andrea Cardenas to resign after allegations that she and her brother defrauded a federal COVID relief program were made public in felony indictments last week.
Jose Preciado, who represents District 2 on the council, issued a statement on Monday saying that he was “stunned by the disturbing charges” against the District 4 representative, adding that the claims “undermine the fundamental trust the public must have in their elected leaders.”
“Personally, I am saddened and struggling to reconcile these charges with a person I’ve known and admired since she was a passionate community activist in high school, long before she was ever in political office or a position of power,” he continued. “Andrea has the right to due process and the presumption of innocence in court, but the right thing for her to do now is to resign from the City Council.”
Preciado was the first elected official in Chula Vista to comment on the charges against Cardenas that were made public in a six-page criminal complaint filed by the San Diego County District Attorney’s office last Wednesday.
After initially declining to comment to FOX 5 last week, Chula Vista Mayor John McCann later joined Preciado in calling for her to resign, issuing the following statement Monday night:
“After reviewing the charges against Councilmember Cardenas and considering the serious nature of the alleged crimes, it is clear to me that she must resign from the City Council. Ensuring the public trust is crucial for all elected officials. Maintaining that trust under the current circumstances is simply impossible.”
In the court filing, prosecutors accuse the councilmember, 31, and her brother Jesus Cardenas, 40, of fraudulently obtaining a $176,000 loan for their firm, Grassroots Resources, through the Paycheck Protection Program, a COVID-era relief program that allowed businesses to take out loans to cover payroll and other costs.
The complaint states that Jesus, who previously served as chief of staff to San Diego City Councilmember Stephen Whitburn, misrepresented the number of employees, the type of business it was and what the PPP funds would go towards to obtain the loan.
According to the DA, a portion of the money was ultimately used to pay personal American Express bills, while other funds were transferred to business accounts. Roughly $34,000 was also allegedly put towards Cardenas’ campaign for city council.
Late Monday evening, Cardenas responded to the filed charges for the first time in an emailed statement, saying that 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,” Cardenas said.
Cardenas went on to say that her “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,” Cardenas said.
Delfina Gonzalez, a Chula Vista labor organizer who ran against Cardenas in 2020, commented on the charges shortly after they were made public, saying that the councilmember should step down.
Former Chula Vista councilmember and longtime resident, John Moot, also spoke out in light of the allegations.
In an interview with FOX 5 on Wednesday, Moot said he was not surprised by the accusations, as he had been aware of inconsistencies in her campaign spending. He added that it was the reason why he entered the 2022 race for Chula Vista City Attorney.
“I decided to run on the explicit campaign promise of zero tolerance for political corruption in Chula Vista because I was very concerned about what I was observing,” Moot said.
The siblings are slated to be arraigned on Thursday in downtown. They face felony charges including conspiracy to commit a crime, money laundering, grand theft and filing to file tax returns.
If convicted on all charges, Cardenas could face up to five years and eight months in custody. Per the city’s municipal code, she would also be removed from her seat on the city council.