Two prominent Democratic figures, siblings no less, have been charged with fraud, conspiracy, and money laundering. The San Diego District Attorney’s office made this announcement on Wednesday.
Andrea Cardenas, a sitting Chula Vista City Council member, and her elder brother, Jesus Cardenas, who previously served as the chief of staff to San Diego City Councilman Stephen Whitburn, are at the center of this controversy.
The charges revolve around their alleged fraudulent acquisition of a $176,227 Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan for their venture, Grassroots Resources, a local government and political consulting firm, Time of San Diego reported.
According to the charging documents, Jesus Cardenas is accused of misrepresenting the nature and scale of Grassroots Resources to secure the PPP loan. He allegedly claimed the company had 34 employees and further denied its operations as a political consulting entity. But the deceit doesn’t end there. The funds obtained under these pretenses were reportedly used for personal expenses.
Andrea Cardenas, not to be left behind in this scheme, is accused of collaborating with her brother in this fraudulent endeavor. She reportedly replaced information about Grassroots Resources, as requested by the lender, with details pertaining to Harbor Collective, a marijuana dispensary.
Further casting doubt on Andrea Cardenas’s integrity, a report by La Prensa highlighted that she declared an income from Grassroots Resources as an “employee salary” ranging between $10,001 and $100,000. This was in addition to her substantial salary of over $60,000 from Chula Vista for her council duties.
However, in a glaring contradiction, when Grassroots Resources pursued a consulting contract with a local public water agency in November 2021, Andrea Cardenas refuted the existence of any employees at Grassroots Resources.
The charges they face are severe and encompass conspiracy, money laundering, grand theft, and tax fraud, among others. Their arraignment is set for Nov. 9 at 1:30 p.m. at the San Diego Superior Court building downtown. The potential consequences are dire. If convicted, Andrea Cardenas could be looking at a prison sentence of up to five years and eight months, while Jesus Cardenas might face up to four years and four months behind bars.
For context, La Prensa reported:
Grassroots Resources provided campaign services in support of several political campaigns throughout San Diego County in the past several years, including County Supervisors Nora Vargas and Terra Lawson-Remer, San Diego City Councilman Stephen Whitburn, and even Andrea Cardenas’ own campaign for Chula Vista City Council.
Andrea Cardenas has listed Grassroots Resource as her only source of income since at least 2019 when she filed her first economic interest form when she first launched her campaign for Chula Vista City Council.
At the time, a website for a company named Political Strategies, Inc., which was a partnership between Grassroots Resources, TMC Direct, and the San Diego Group, another San Diego-based consulting group, mentioned that “Today Grassroots Resources is run by Andrea Cardenas, and a team of political professionals.”
Cardenas ended her successful 2020 campaign for Chula Vista City Council with $38,991.89 in debts, including owing TMC Direct $35,991.89 for six separate campaign mailers delivered to voters without Cardenas paying for them.
Six months after the election, Cardenas loaned her campaign $33,500 and paid off the outstanding debts owed to TMC Direct.
Cardenas’ latest campaign finance report for the first half of 2023 still lists her debts as a total of $36,500, of which $35,800 are loans she made to her own campaign. Under the City’s campaign finance rules, candidate can only loan their campaigns up to $10,000 which can be repaid through campaign contributions, but the remaining loan amounts are considered contributions which cannot be recovered.
BREAKING: Local political consulting siblings Jesus & Andrea Cardenas indicted by @SDDistAtty @SummerStephan on multiple felony charges stemming from a fraudulent COVID-era govt loan.
LPSD first reported on Feb 3 https://t.co/ByoNrQsXrK details of their PPP loan.
Both will be… pic.twitter.com/mDsUVONTQX
— La Prensa San Diego – LaPrensa.org (@LaPrensaSD) November 1, 2023