Rapper Who Bragged About COVID Relief Fraud Gets Prison Time

LOS ANGELES (CNS) – A rapper who boasted in a YouTube music video about getting rich by committing COVID-19 unemployment benefits fraud was sentenced Wednesday to nearly 6 1/2 years in federal prison.

The rapper known as Nuke Bizzle — whose real name is Fontrell Antonio Baines — pleaded guilty in July 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, was sentenced to 77 months in federal prison and ordered to pay more than $700,000 in restitution to the state Employment Development Department.

Prosecutors said the 33-year-old rapper exploited the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance provision of the CARES Act, which was 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, according to court documents.

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, prosecutors said. 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.”

In one case, Baines appeared 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 are sent through the mail, according to court papers. A second rapper in the video intones, “You gotta sell cocaine, I just file a claim.”

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