Cops: PPP loan used to fund murder of Miami TSA agent
The hitman hired to assassinate A Miami federal airport agent was paid using a federal payroll protection loan meant to help small businesses during the pandemic, according to newly released court filings.
The accused mastermind of the conspiracy, Jasmine Martinez, received a PPP loan of $15,000 — who she said needed to keep her one-man beauty salon afloat — last April. She then withdrew more than $10,000 from it in the days leading up to the murder, according to arrest warrants.
On May 3, 2021, the accused hitman, an ex-con named Javon Carter, ran towards US Transportation Security Administration agent Le’Shonte Jones as she entered his south Miami-Dade apartment, shooting him several times, according to the police.
Detectives believe Martinez, who has had a series of run-ins with Jones over the years, paid Carter at least $10,000 to kill the Miami airport worker – a deal they believe was funded by money from the federal payroll protection program. The warrants reveal that hours after the murder he was paid off and used his phone to film himself counting a “large sum” of money. “Just another day at the office,” he said in the video, according to the warrants.
Details were in arrest warrants issued Tuesday, four days after Miami-Dade police announced the arrests of Martinez, Carter and another man, Romiel Robinson, in the high level murder. Martinez was arrested in Port Saint Lucie, while the others were already in custody in Miami.
Attorneys for Martinez and Robinson said their clients did not conspire with the murder.
“Jasmin has consistently denied any involvement in this since the first time law enforcement approached her last summer,” said Fallon Zirpoli, Martinez’s defense attorney.
Robinson’s attorney, Jonathan Jordan, said: “Romiel is and was detained long before this incident happened. This loss of life is tragic, but Mr. Robinson had nothing to do with it. We look forward to reviewing all the evidence and maintaining that he is innocent of these allegations.
It was unclear whether Carter retained the services of a defense attorney.
Miami-Dade homicide detectives quietly arrested Carter earlier this month, but the arrest warrant was sealed by a court order as they searched for Martinez. Robinson, the alleged middleman, was already in jail on unrelated charges.
It was unclear on Tuesday whether Martinez actually owned a beauty salon or whether federal authorities could seek charges related to the PPP loan. South Florida has become a hotbed for PPP fraud. Small business loans, a cornerstone of the federal government’s COVID-19 relief efforts, were forgivable if used for payroll and other approved expenses.
The Miami-Dade State’s Attorney’s Office plans to seek grand jury indictments for first-degree murder, which means the trio could potentially face the death penalty.
Jones was shot in May 2021, after a shift at Miami International Airport outside apartments at Coral Bay Cove. Her 3-year-old daughter was injured in the shooting. The brazen attack sparked an exhaustive investigation that focused on Jones’ role as a prosecution witness. She had been the victim of an ongoing robbery case involving Martinez.
As noted in court records, Martinez had a long string of run-ins with Jones.
She was first arrested for battery in April 2016, accused of punching Jones, who was dating Martinez’s ex-boyfriend. The case was dropped.
Martinez was arrested again in 2018, again for beating Jones. After a court hearing for the case in February 2020, according to police reports, Jones was attacked in the Miami Criminal Courthouse parking lot by Martinez’s boyfriend, Kelly Nelson.
Nelson was imprisoned for armed robbery. He is awaiting his trial, even though the main witness has been murdered. Martinez has not been charged in this case.
But in the months that followed, according to the warrants, Martinez orchestrated a campaign to threaten and intimidate Jones, then eventually murdered the young mother when she continued to cooperate with prosecutors. The plan was hatched through jailhouse phone calls, some of which were recorded and used as key evidence, according to the warrant of Miami-Dade homicide detective Jonathan Grossman of the cold case team.
After Jones’s murder, detectives began examining prison phone calls between Nelson, who was imprisoned, and Martinez, in the months leading up to the murder.
During a call, Martinez blurted out that she was “ready to go kill that bitch” and said Jones had to “die,” according to the warrant. Nelson was not charged with having participated in the murder of the TSA agent.
In other evidence, according to the warrant:
▪ Carter’s phone was traced to the area near where the murder happened, at the exact same time. The same phone was also located for hours in the same area the previous two days, suggesting that Carter was watching Jones’ apartment.
Carter’s phone also contacted Martinez’s phone 127 times in the months leading up to the murder, suggesting the two were planning the hit.
▪ Carter’s phone was also used to communicate extensively with Robinson, who was jailed but was allegedly the go-between who set up Martinez with the shooter. Robinson and Carter had previously served time in prison together.
▪ Detectives identified the gray Nissan Sentra allegedly used by Carter. An associate rented the car to him, police said. This associate later told police that Carter “explained to him that he was involved in a shooting to help a friend in jail.”
▪ Calls revealed Carter had haggled with Robinson and Martinez over payment – with the three using sporting terms as code words. The payout for the hit was a “number 10 jersey,” the warrant suggests.
▪ Cell records suggest that immediately after the murder, Carter met with Martinez to get paid.
This story was originally published February 15, 2022 2:40 p.m.