Rapper pleads guilty in COVID-19 jobless relief fraud case
A rapper who boasted in a YouTube music video about getting rich from committing unemployment benefits fraud pleaded guilty Monday in Los Angeles to federal fraud and firearms charges.
The rapper known as Nuke Bizzle — whose real name is Fontrell Baines — entered his plea to one count each of mail fraud and unlawful possession of a firearm and ammunition by a convicted felon.
Baines, who’s from Memphis, Tennessee, but recently lived in the Hollywood Hills, will face a sentence of up to 20 years in federal prison for the mail fraud count and up to 10 years for the firearm count at sentencing on Oct. 5. He also agreed to forfeit funds totaling $56,750 that were previously seized by law enforcement, according to his plea agreement.
The 33-year-old rapper exploited the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance provision of the CARES Act, which is designed to expand access to unemployment benefits to self-employed workers, independent contractors and others who would not otherwise be eligible.
Baines admitted to possessing and using debit cards pre-loaded with unemployment benefits administered by the California Employment Development Department. The debit cards were issued in the names of third parties, including identity theft victims. The applications for the cards listed addresses to which Baines had access in Beverly Hills and Koreatown, the agreement filed in Los Angeles federal court says.
At least 92 debit cards that had been pre-loaded with more than $1.2 million in fraudulently obtained benefits were mailed to those addresses. Baines and his co-schemers accessed more than $704,000 of those benefits through cash withdrawals in Las Vegas and elsewhere and made purchases of merchandise and services.
Baines bragged about his ability to defraud the EDD in a music video posted on YouTube and in postings to his Instagram account, under the handles “nukebizzle1” and “nukebizzle23.”
For example, Baines appears in a music video called “EDD” in which he boasts about doing “my swagger for EDD” and, holding up a stack of envelopes from EDD, getting rich by going “to the bank with a stack of these” — presumably a reference to the debit cards that come in the mail, according to court papers. A second rapper in the video intones, “You gotta sell cocaine, I just file a claim.”
Baines’ lawyer said in court Monday that his client also is charged in Memphis federal court with drug charges and would enter a guilty plea in that case as soon as it is transferred to Los Angeles.