La prensa

CORRECTION: Verdugo's Conflicts are Worse Than We Thought

Marco Verdugo
Author: La Prensa
Created: 19 February, 2024
Updated: 20 February, 2024
7 min read

Last week we published our endorsement of Bart Miesfeld for Chula Vista City Attorney to lead the county's second-largest city because of his more than 20 years of experience in the City Attorney‘s office. (Read "CV Needs an Uncorrupted City Attorney)

We also detailed the conflicts-of-interest his opponent, Marco Verdugo, has because of his connections to Councilwoman Andrea Cardenas. 

Cardenas, who is running for re-election on the March 5th ballot, and her brother, Jesus Cardenas, were charged in November with 12 felony counts related to a fraudulent COVID-era federal loan they received and misspent.

Councilwoman Cardenas resigned suddenly on Monday just a day before a scheduled court hearing in their criminal case. 

But over the weekend, Verdugo contacted La Prensa San Diego to raise issues with our piece, although he did not challenge our premise that he cannot investigate the biggest corruption case Chula Vista has had in decades -if not ever- because of his political connections to her. 

Although none of Verdugo’s requested changes constitute errors or mistakes, he takes issue with some of the wording in our piece and asked for clarifications. 

In the spirit of full transparency and accuracy, we will not only address his request but also expand on the issues to more fully detail his background and associations with Cardenas and others connected to her. 

First, Verdugo complained that we wrote he “courted” the endorsement of Councilwoman Cardenas because he doesn’t “think that’s an accurate representation of the facts.

Verdugo not only listed Councilwoman Cardenas as an endorsement on his official ballot statement sent out to voters in the November 2023 Special Election presumably thinking she would generate votes for his election, but he also sent out fundraising flyers touting her support.

Article - Uber

Verdugo ballot statementVerdugo endorsementVerdugo fundraiser

Whether he "courted" her or not, he accepted and used her endorsement in an attempt to get votes.

Although she had not yet been indicted when Verdugo submitted his ballot statement, Andrea Cardenas was already the subject of numerous media stories, as well as a citizen’s complaint, over her use of unpaid mailers sent out during her 2020 election. 

Verdugo, who wants to be the City’s lawyer and top ethics officer, did not seem at all troubled by her extensive use of debt that he now campaigns against -but only started mentioning it after she was indicted in November. 

Verdugo also complains about our statement that he “represented San Diego, Coronado, and other cities as a private attorney” does not make it clear that he was an attorney in the San Diego City Attorney’s Office from 2015 to 2023 before joining a private firm last year.

Verdugo is correct that he served within the San Diego City Attorney’s office under Mara Elliott, including during the time her office negotiated and approved the lease and then purchase of the 101 Ash Street building downtown. 

101 Ash is an asbestos-filled tower that San Diego has spent more than $200 million to lease, improve, evacuate, and then buy but is now vacant and unusable. It may be San Diego’s worst real estate deal and most costly political scandal ever. 

Verdugo then left the SD City Attorney’s office to work at the law firm of Burke, Williams & Sorensen, LLP, which not only wrote a controversial memo on 101 Ash, but was later sued by the City for malpractice after they lost a $3.9 million wrongful termination case. 

We don't think either of those two job references makes a good case for his election as Chula Vista City Attorney. 

Article - Uber

Lastly, Verdugo complains that our endorsement claimed that, if elected, “one of his first official acts would have to be to recuse himself from investigating Cardenas, one of his biggest supporters.” 

Although Verdugo makes the dubious claim that “she is not my supporter and even if she was she would be nowhere near my biggest”, he does not challenge our main point of contention with his candidacy; he is connected with Cardenas and would not be able to investigate her, including potential challenges to votes she took while in office. 

Cardenas may not have been his "biggest supporter" but he clearly thought enough of her to put her on his ballot statement.

We don’t mind Verdugo’s request for clarifications -we strive to be as accurate as possible- but his complaints now open up even more questions about his association with people involved in controversial political schemes.

First, Verdugo's decision to hire Dan Rottenstreich as his campaign consultant before the November special election. 

Rottenstreich, one of the most experienced campaign consultants in San Diego, also ran an independent expenditure campaign funded by the Laborers’ International Union for Todd Gloria in 2020 that took in a $100,000 contribution from developer Brad Termini. 

In 2022, Termini was selected by Mayor Gloria to redevelop the Sports Arena site in a three-way bidding war that many suspected was rigged in Termini’s favor. 

During the San Diego City Council meeting when the selection was being made, Rottenstreich’s wife, labor leader Brigette Browning, testified that Termini’s proposal was the best one of the three. The Council later selected Termini’s group for the more than $1 billion project. 

Article - Uber

Days later we all learned that Termini had paid Rottenstreich over $200,000 as a consultant on the project but failed to properly disclose his connection until after the Council gave their team the project. Browning also failed to disclose the fact that her husband brought home $200,000 from Termini when she testified in favor of the project. 

In November, Verdugo benefited from a $67,000 mailer sent out by the same Laborers’ Union which also paid political consultants Margin Victories $10,000 for consulting in support of Verdugo. 

Margin Victories is owned by Jehoan Espinoza, a former employee of Jesus Cardenas’ company where Andrea also works. Espinoza has also lived with Andrea in recent years. 

Espinoza and the Cardenas firm, Grassroots Resources, have also orchestrated a multiyear scheme where nearly every one of their campaigns in 2020 and 2022 benefited from an estimated 500,000 pieces of unpaid campaign mailers -the exact kind of debt Verdugo now wants to ban. 

Grassroots Resources is the company that the Cardenas siblings used to apply for and spend the COVID-era federal loan at the heart of their indictment. Andrea used $33,000 of the federal money -intended to help companies retain workers during the pandemic- to pay down campaign debt from her 2020 election. 

Marco Verdugo has less legal experience than Bart Miesfeld, has only worked in the Chula Vista City Attorney’s office as a law school intern, and was ordered by a judge to stop using a misleading ballot title in the Primary Election. 

But, even putting all of that aside, his judgment in using Andrea Cardenas as an endorsement and benefitting from people who have already been called out for questionable political schemes shows a concerning lack of awareness. 

Verdugo claims he won’t be beholden to anyone who helps him get elected, but we’re more worried about his judgment and decisions he made all on his own. 

Article - Uber

He used a controversial councilwoman to help him, hired a controversial consultant to run his campaign, and benefitted from the help of two controversial consultants tied to a wide-ranging campaign scheme, but now claims to be the candidate for City Attorney who "is committed to rooting out corruption and ensuring our city is governed with transparency and integrity."

We continue to support Bart Miesfeld as the best choice for Chula Vista City Attorney to bring a renewed sense of seriousness and clear-eyed decision-making the City desperately needs. 

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