Florida woman used pandemic relief loan to pay off hitman, police say
The Paycheck Protection Program is intended to help businesses meet their payrolls during the pandemic, but dozens of people have been accused of using federal loan money for extravaganzas like Ferraris, Lamborghinis, jewelry and lavish vacations.
Now Miami authorities say a woman has gone to another extreme: using part of a $15,000 PPP loan to pay off a hitman.
The woman, Jasmine Martinez, 33, received the loan on April 20, 2021, two weeks before a man in a black hoodie shot and killed Le’Shonte Jones as she walked to her building with her daughter 3 years, Miami-Dade police said in an arrest warrant dated Feb. 9. Ms Martinez made withdrawals from her bank account totaling more than $10,000 in the days leading up to the murder, police said.
Police have arrested Ms Martinez and Romiel Robinson, a man with whom Ms Martinez was romantically involved, on charges of first degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder in the murder of Ms Jones, 24, a Transportation Security Administration employee at Miami International Airport, according to arrest warrants in the case. The Miami Herald reported on the warrants on Tuesday.
Miami-Dade police also announced last week the arrest of Javon Carter, a former inmate they believe to be the hitman. Mr Carter has been charged with first degree murder and attempted murder of Ms Jones’ daughter, who was grazed by bullets in the attack, police said.
Police found a video on Mr Carter’s mobile phone, taken around two hours after Ms Jones’ murder, in which he counted a ‘large amount’ of cash and said ‘just another day at the office’, according to an arrest warrant. .
Police believe the shooting is the culmination of a long antagonism between the two women.
Fallon Zirpoli, an attorney representing Ms Martinez, said in a statement late Tuesday that Ms Martinez “has consistently denied any involvement in this tragedy since she was first approached by law enforcement last summer.”
Jonathan Jordan, a lawyer representing Mr Robinson, did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Tuesday. It was unclear whether Mr. Carter had an attorney.
The scheme under which police say Ms Martinez got a loan was part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act. The federal government, keen to get the relief money out quickly, waived much of the verification that lenders traditionally do on business loans, but the lack of such standards meant fraud was highly likely.
An August academic paper by researchers at the University of Texas at Austin estimated that about 1.8 million of the program’s 11.8 million loans – more than 15% – totaling $76 billion had at least an indication of potential fraud. Scores of people have been arrested and charged with embezzling pandemic relief funds.
In July 2020, a Florida man who received nearly $4 million in federal loans was arrested on bank fraud and other charges after buying a blue Lamborghini for $318,497, federal prosecutors said. In August 2020, a man in Texas who received more than $1.6 million from the same federal program was arrested on bank fraud and other charges after buying, among other things, a 2019 Lamborghini Urus for $233,337.60, prosecutors said.
It was unclear whether Ms Martinez owned a business or how she was able to obtain a PPP loan. Ms Zirpoli declined to say whether Ms Martinez had received a PPP loan, saying she had not seen any evidence related to the case.
The brazen broad daylight murder of Ms Jones in front of her toddler has shocked the community.
When officers arrived on the scene, they found Ms Jones and her daughter with ‘multiple gunshot wounds’ outside their building. Ms Jones died at the scene and the child was airlifted to hospital, police said.
Surveillance footage showed the mother and child walking towards their apartment when a man later identified as Mr Carter got out of a gray 2019 Nissan Sentra and began shooting at them with a semi-automatic pistol, police said.
Police say the murder took place after a series of violent acts were inflicted on Ms Jones over the years by Ms Martinez or people connected to her.
In May 2018, officers investigating an unrelated case saw Ms Martinez run towards Ms Jones and begin punching her in the face, police said. Ms. Martinez was charged with battery.
While giving evidence in the case, Ms Jones was punched and had her mobile phone and other belongings stolen as she walked to her car from the courtroom, the court said. police. Kelly Nelson, who was dating Ms Martinez, was one of those arrested and charged with armed robbery in the case, police said.
In March, Ms Jones reported being harassed and offered money not to testify in the robbery case, police said. Ms Martinez sent Ms Jones a message on social media asking her to tell authorities that Mr Nelson did not have a firearm during the robbery, police said.
But Ms Jones continued to cooperate with prosecutors and recounted the harassment in a deposition on April 9, weeks before her murder.
Mr. Nelson is awaiting trial for armed robbery, according to The Miami Herald.