Aspiring rapper Nuke Bizzle boasted in a YouTube video about getting rich from stealing COVID-19 unemployment benefits. Now he’s pleaded guilty to stealing pandemic relief funds and faces 30 years in federal prison.
The rapper, whose real name is Fontrell Antonio Baines, struck a deal with prosecutors and agreed to plead guilty to one count of mail fraud and one count of unlawful possession of a firearm and ammunition by a convicted felon, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles said this week in a news release.
According to prosecutors, the Memphis, Tennessee native landed on their radar after he filed 92 fraudulent claims with California’s Employment Development Department, commonly referred to as “EDD.” Baines scored at least $704,760 of the $1.2 million in benefits he claimed, prosecutors said.
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Baines, now 33, made a music video called “EDD” and held up cash and a stack of EDD envelopes, apparently containing government-issued debit cards he got in the mail. He rapped about his “swagger for EDD” and bragged “I done got rich off of EDD” in the song.
In 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic raged, companies shut down and workers were laid off, leading Congress to pass the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program to expand unemployment benefits to self-employed workers and independent contractors.
Prosecutors said Baines used the names of third parties, “including identity theft victims,” to scam the program.
“From July 2020 to September 2020, Baines unlawfully exploited the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) provisions of the CARES Act to obtain unemployment insurance money to which he was not entitled,” prosecutors noted in Baines’ plea agreement.
The rapper has been in federal custody since his arrest in October 2020.
When he was taken into custody at his home in the Hollywood Hills, law enforcement said he had a semi-automatic pistol with 14 rounds of ammunition. Baines was prohibited from possessing the firearm because he had a prior conviction in 2011 in Tennessee state court for unlawful possession of a controlled substance with intent to sell, as well as a conviction in Nevada federal court in 2014 for being a felon in possession of a firearm.
He initially pleaded not guilty in the fraud case, but later changed his plea.
He faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison for the mail fraud count and 10 years for the unlawful firearm and ammunition possession count. He has also agreed to give up $56,750 in funds seized by law enforcement.