La prensa

CV Council Candidate Lied About Felony Drug Charge

Cesar Fernandez
Author: La Prensa
Created: 01 March, 2024
Updated: 02 March, 2024
7 min read
(Pictured: Marco Verdugo, Cesar Fernandez, and Sara Kent Ochoa)

By Arturo Castañares

A current elementary school boardmember running for City Council lied about a previous felony drug charge that he falsely downplayed as a misdemeanor, now becoming the second felon running for the same office in next week’s election.

Cesar Fernandez, who was elected to the Chula Vista Elementary School District in 2022, is currently running for Chula Vista City Council District 4 in the Southwest areas of the City.

Fernandez was convicted of felony possession of marijuana for sale but has repeatedly stated publicly that it was only a misdemeanor charge.

As a candidate for City Council, Fernandez is running against Andrea Cardenas who resigned her seat on the City Council last week after being indicted on eight felony counts of fraud and theft related to a fraudulent COVID-era federal loan and falsely applying for unemployment benefits. Her brother, Jesus Cardenas, was charged with six felony counts over the same fraudulent schemes.

Cardenas and her brother each pleaded guilty this week to two felony counts of grand theft of public money and could face up to one year in county jail when they are sentenced.

Fernandez has admitted that he was charged with a drug offense in 1992 when he was 19 years old, as well as a DUI ten years ago where he was driving the wrong way down a street.

The drug charge was eventually expunged from his record in 1999 after he completed probation and does not show up on online background searches. Fernandez does not have to admit it for employment purposes.

Fernandez first received his state teaching credential in 2000 and currently teaches high school classes while also serving on the elementary school district board.

Article - Uber

La Prensa San Diego interviewed Fernandez and asked about the drug charge to confirm the details directly with him after rumors of the conviction had surfaced during endorsement meetings at the San Diego County Democratic Party.

Fernandez was adamant that the charge was never a felony and blamed opponents for spreading false rumors. He explained that he was caught smoking marijuana which today is legal.

Some Fernandez supporters hailed his prior misdemeanor charge as an example of the obstacles he overcame to become a successful teacher and administrator. 

But this week La Prensa San Diego confirmed court documents showing Fernandez was convicted of a felony charge of possession of marijuana for sale and served two days in jail when he was arrested, contradicting his claims that his prior charge was a low-level crime.

The conviction records are not readily available, so confirming the true nature of the charges is difficult for the public at large.

"Unfortunately, we have a candidate who has been misleading voters by claiming to clean up City Hall while he has a record of his own,” said Delfina Gonzalez, one of six other candidates in the race. “The citizens of our city deserve ethical and trustworthy leaders who are committed to upholding the law and serving the community with integrity.”

Christine Brady, another one of the candidates, also expressed her concerns after hearing the truth about Fernandez’s past.

“Honest and transparency are expected from leaders,” Brady said. “We will pay a great price not to have it.”

Article - Uber

Fernandez was charged with felony drug possession of marijuana for sale on February 21, 1992, and was sentenced on June 1, 1992. 

As part of his sentencing deal, Fernandez was given credit for two days he had served in jail, served three years on probation, and a fine that was stayed by the court.

The following year, Fernandez was granted a court order to reduce the felony conviction to a misdemeanor, and in 1999, he petitioned the court to expunge the conviction from his record.

Fernandez received the endorsement of the local Democratic Party after the partisan group rescinded its endorsement of Andrea Cardenas following her indictment in November. 

The Democratic Party has been promoting Fernandez as “a teacher we can trust” but given his connection with other convicted felons, his calls to clean up the City are now being questioned.

In 2022, Fernandez used Jesus Cardenas as his political consultant to run his campaign for the Chula Vista Elementary School District Board.

Cardenas, along with his sister, Andrea, run Grassroots Resources Inc., a local political consulting firm.

Both of the siblings were indicted in November 2023 on 12 felony counts related to a fraudulent COVID-era federal loan their company received in May 2021. They siblings used the names of employees of a San Diego cannabis company to claim a $176,244 PPP loan which they used to pay personal credit cards and outstanding campaign debts from Andrea's 2020 election.

Article - Uber

Last week, each of the siblings were charged with two additional felonies for falsely collecting unemployment benefits while they were both working. 

In his current campaign for City Attorney, Marco Verdugo used the endorsement of Andrea Cardenas on his ballot statement in the November 2023 Special Election. At the time, Jesus Cardenas was also running an independent expenditure campaign in support of Verdugo.

Just one day after Andrea Cardenas resigned her City Council seat, Fernandez and Verdugo held a press conference to tout their anti-corruption platform. The candidate were joined by Sara Kent Ochoa, the local Democratic Party's Vice-Chair for the South region.

Fernandez and Verdugo also share the same political consultant in this election cycle and are running as “a clean slate” of “Democratic champions to clean up City Hall.”

Dan Rottenstreich is running the two campaigns and coordinating their slate mailers being paid for through the Democratic Party.

Rottenstreich himself has come under criticism for his part in a controversial development proposal to rebuild the San Diego Sports Arena site.

In 2022, the Midway Rising development team was one of three bidders on the Sports Arena redevelopment project. When the City Council considered the proposals, local labor leader Brigette Browning spoke in favor of the Midway Rising proposal as the best one even though all three had agreed to use union labor to build their projects. 

Browning, who also serves as the leader of the hotel and restaurant workers’ union, HERE Local 30, claimed the proposal would result in the most permanent union jobs through its 200-room proposal hotel within the development.

Article - Uber

After the City Council selected the development team, the group filed their overdue lobbying disclosure reports and revealed that Rottenstreich had been paid over $200,000 to help promote the project.

Rottenstreich is married to Browning who spoke in favor of the project without publicly disclosing her financial conflict of interest in the deal.

Months after the City entered into negotiations with the Midway Rising team, the group announced it would modify the proposal and removed 250 middle-income affordable units and the 200-room hotel Browning had touted as the reason for her support.

Since the proposal change, Browning has remained silent on the elimination of the unionized hotel that would have created hundreds of jobs for her members.

Labor leaders like Browning are required to file conflict-of-interest disclosures when they have any kind of economic interest in projects they support, but Browning did not file any LM30 form with the US Department of Labor related to the Sports Arena project.

Fernandez, Rottenstreich, and Verdugo did not respond to requests for comment.

Local Democratic Party Chair Rebecca Taylor did not respond to requests for comment.

The race for Chula Vista City Council appears on the March 5th Primary Election ballot. Two candidates with the most votes will continue on to the November 5th General Election.

Article - Uber

In addition to Cardenas and Fernandez, the candidates in the race are Delfina Gonzalez, Christine Brady, Jose Sarmiento, Rudy Ramirez, and write-in candidate Leticia Lares.

Latest articles
Newsom Nearly Doubles CalGuard Task Force to Fight Drugs
California ranked 15th lowest in drug-related deaths in recent CDC report.
16 June, 2024
1 min read
Inzunza Used Rented Room to Establish Residency
The former Mayor worked to remove Port Commissioner.
16 June, 2024
8 min read
CV School Board Member Runs Against Colleague
Challenge pits two popular incumbents against each other.
14 June, 2024
4 min read