15/06/2024 1:56 PM


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Cops: PPP loan used to finance murder of Miami TSA officer

– Miami-Dade Police

The hitman hired to murder a Miami federal airport officer was paid using a federal payroll protection loan intended to help small businesses during the pandemic, according to newly released court records.

The accused mastermind of the plot, Jasmine Martinez, received a $15,000 PPP loan — which she claimed was to keep her single-employee beauty salon afloat — last April. She then withdrew over $10,000 of that 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 up to U.S. Transportation Security Administration officer Le’Shonte Jones as she walked into her South Miami-Dade apartment, shooting her multiple times, according to police.

Detectives believe Martinez, who 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 say was bankrolled by money from the federal Payroll Protection Program. The warrants reveal that a couple hours after the murder, he got paid and used his phone to video himself counting a “large sum” of cash. “Just another day at the office,” he said in the video, according to the warrants.

The details were contained in arrest warrants released Tuesday, four days after Miami-Dade police announced the arrests of Martinez, Carter and another man, Romiel Robinson, in the high-profile slaying. Martinez was arrested in Port Saint Lucie, while the others were already in custody in Miami.

Attorneys for Martinez and Robinson said their clients had not plotted the killing.

“Jasmin has always denied any involvement in this since the first time law enforcement approached her last summer,” said Fallon Zirpoli, Martinez’s defense attorney.

Said Robinson’s attorney, Jonathan Jordan: “Romiel is and has been in custody well before this incident unfolded. This loss of life is tragic but Mr. Robinson had nothing to do with it. We look forward to reviewing all of the evidence and maintain he is innocent of these allegations.”

It was unclear if Carter had retained a defense attorney.

Miami-Dade homicide detectives quietly arrested Carter earlier this month, but the arrest warrant was sealed by court order as they looked for Martinez. Robinson, the suspected go-between, was already in jail on unrelated charges.

It was unclear Tuesday if Martinez actually owned a beauty salon or if federal authorities could seek charges related to the PPP loan. South Florida has emerged as a hotbed for PPP fraud. The small-business loans, a signature plank in the federal government’s COVID-19 relief efforts, were forgivable if used for payroll and other approved expenses.

The Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office is planning to seek grand jury indictments for first-degree murder, which means the trio could possibly face the death penalty.

Le’Shonte Jones, 24, was gunned down in May 2021 in South Miami-Dade. – Family photo

Jones was gunned down in May 2021, after a shift at Miami International Airport, outside the Coral Bay Cove apartments. 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 in an ongoing robbery case that involved Martinez.

As outlined in court records, Martinez had a long series of run-ins with Jones.

She’d first been arrested on a battery charge in April 2016, accused of striking Jones, who was dating Martinez’s ex-boyfriend. The case wound up dropped.

Martinez was arrested again in 2018, for again beating up Jones. After a court hearing for the case in February 2020, according to police reports, Jones was attacked in the parking lot of Miami’s criminal courthouse by Martinez’s boyfriend, Kelly Nelson.

Nelson was jailed for armed robbery. He is awaiting trial, even though the chief witness has been murdered. Martinez was not charged in that case.

From left, the suspects in the murder of federal airport officer Le’Shonte Jones: Javon Carter, Romiel Robinson and Jasmine Martinez.
– Miami-Dade Police

But in the ensuing months, the warrants allege, Martinez orchestrated a campaign to threaten and intimidate Jones, and then eventually murder the young mother when she continued to cooperate with prosecutors. The plan was hatched through jail phone calls, some of which were recorded and used as key evidence, according to the warrant by Miami-Dade homicide detective Jonathan Grossman, of the cold-case squad.

After Jones’ murder, detectives began reviewing jail phone calls between Nelson, who was jailed, and Martinez, in the months before the killing.

In one call, Martinez blurted out that she was “ready to go kill this ho” and said Jones has to “die,” according to the warrant. Nelson has not been accused of taking part in the TSA officer’s murder.

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 traced for hours-long periods in the same area on two previous days, suggesting Carter was monitoring Jones’ apartment.

Carter’s phone also communicated with Martinez’s phone 127 times in the months leading up to the killing, suggesting the two were planning the hit.

Carter’s phone was also used to communicate extensively with Robinson, who was jailed but is believed to have been the go-between who set up Martinez with the gunman. Robinson and Carter had earlier served prison time together.

Detectives identified the gray Nissan Sentra believed to have been used by Carter. An associate rented the car for him, police said. That 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 haggled with Robinson and Martinez over payment — with all three using sports terms as code words. The payment for the hit was a “number 10 jersey,” the warrant suggests.

Cell records suggested that immediately after the murder, Carter met up with Martinez to get paid.

This story was originally published February 15, 2022 2:40 PM.

David Ovalle covers crime and courts in Miami. A native of San Diego, he graduated from the University of Southern California and joined the Herald in 2002 as a sports reporter.