Florida Woman Used Pandemic-Relief Loan to Pay a Hit Man, Police Say

The Paycheck Protection Program is intended to help businesses meet their payroll during the pandemic, but scores of people have faced charges that they used the federal loan money on extravagances like Ferraris, Lamborghinis, jewelry and lavish vacations.

Now the authorities in Miami say a woman there went to another extreme: using part of a $15,000 P.P.P. loan to pay a hit man.

The woman, Jasmine Martinez, 33, received the loan on April 20, 2021, two weeks before a man wearing a black hooded sweatshirt shot Le’Shonte Jones to death as she walked to her apartment building with her 3-year-old daughter, the 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 before the killing, the police said.

The police arrested Ms. Martinez and Romiel Robinson, a man Ms. Martinez was in a romantic relationship with, on charges of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder in the killing 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 last week also announced the arrest of Javon Carter, an ex-convict who they believe to be the hit man. Mr. Carter was charged with first-degree murder and the attempted murder of Ms. Jones’s daughter, who was grazed by bullets in the attack, the police said.

The police found a video on Mr. Carter’s cellphone, taken about two hours after Ms. Jones’s killing, in which he was counting a “large sum” of money and saying, “just another day in the office,” according to an arrest warrant.

The police believe the shooting was the culmination of a long antagonism between the two women.

Fallon Zirpoli, a lawyer representing Ms. Martinez, said in a statement on Tuesday night that Ms. Martinez “has always denied any involvement in this tragedy since the first time law enforcement approached her 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 a lawyer.

The program under which, the police allege, Ms. Martinez obtained a loan was part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act. The federal government, wanting to get the relief money out fast, waived much of the vetting that lenders traditionally do on business loans, but the absence of those standards meant that fraud was highly likely.

An academic paper from August 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 percent — totaling $76 billion had at least one indication of potential fraud. Numerous people have been arrested and charged with misusing pandemic relief funds.

In July 2020, a man in Florida 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 P.P.P. loan. Ms. Zirpoli declined to comment on whether Ms. Martinez received a P.P.P. loan, saying she has seen no evidence related to the matter.

The brazen daylight killing of Ms. Jones in front of her toddler shocked the community.

When police officers arrived on the scene, they found Ms. Jones and her daughter with “multiple gunshot wounds” outside their apartment building. Ms. Jones died at the scene and the child was airlifted to a hospital, the police said.

Surveillance footage showed the mother and toddler walking toward 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 semiautomatic pistol, the police said.

The police say the killing occurred after a series of violent acts were inflicted on Ms. Jones over the years by Ms. Martinez or people connected with her.

In May 2018, police officers investigating an unrelated matter witnessed Ms. Martinez run up to Ms. Jones and begin punching her in the face, the police said. Ms. Martinez was charged with battery.

While testifying in that case, Ms. Jones was punched and had her cellphone and other belongings stolen while walking to her car from the courtroom, the police said. Kelly Nelson, who had been dating Ms. Martinez, was one of those arrested and charged with armed robbery in that case, the police said.

In March, Ms. Jones reported that she was being harassed and offered money not to testify in the robbery case, the police said. Ms. Martinez sent Ms. Jones a message on social media asking her to tell the authorities that Mr. Nelson did not have a firearm during the robbery, the police said.

But Ms. Jones continued to cooperate with prosecutors and told of the harassment during a deposition on April 9, weeks before her killing.

Mr. Nelson awaits trial on the armed robbery charge, according to The Miami Herald.

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