LOS ANGELES – A rapper who bragged in a YouTube music video that he was getting rich quick by defrauding a COVID relief program was sentenced today to 77 months in federal prison.
Fontrell Antonio Baines, 33, aka “Nuke Bizzle,” of Memphis, Tennessee, was sentenced by United States District Judge Michael W. Fitzgerald, who also ordered him to pay $704,760 in restitution to the California Employment Development Department (EDD).
Today’s sentence was imposed in connection with three criminal cases. Baines pleaded guilty on July 11 to one count of mail fraud and a separate count of unlawful possession of a firearm and ammunition by a convicted felon. He also pleaded guilty Aug. 30 to possession of oxycodone with intent to distribute in a case transferred from the Western District of Tennessee. Baines has been in federal custody since his arrest in October 2020.
Between July 2020 and September 2020, Bains illegally used the CARES Act’s Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) provisions to obtain unemployment insurance money — ultimately more than $700,000 — to which he was not entitled.
As the grip of the Covid-19 pandemic intensified, Congress enacted the PUA rules to expand access to unemployment benefits to self-employed individuals, independent contractors and others who would not otherwise be eligible.
Baynes defrauded a program to obtain unemployment benefits administered by the EDD on behalf of third parties, including victims of identity theft. The benefit applications also contained false information about the work history and place of residence in the country of the named applicants. Through his fraud, Baines turned the taxpayer-funded program into “his personal piggy bank,” according to a sentencing memorandum filed by federal prosecutors.
Applications for those benefits listed addresses in Beverly Hills and Koreatown that Baynes had access to. As a result, Baines was able to take over and use debit cards that had the EDD preloaded with unemployment benefits obtained through fraudulent applications.
For example, Baines used the identity of a Missouri man who briefly attended school but never worked in California to apply for unemployment benefits. In September 2020, Bains used a debit card issued based on a fraudulent PUA claim filed in the name of a Missouri man to withdraw approximately $2,500.
Bains submitted 92 fraudulent PUA claims to the EDD, resulting in approximately $1,256,108 in attempted damages and at least $704,760 in actual damages to the EDD and the US Treasury.
According to court documents, Baines bragged about his ability to defraud the EDD in a music video posted to YouTube as well as in posts on his Instagram account. In the music video titled “EDD”, Baines brags about “picking EDD” and picking up a stack of EDD envelopes, getting rich with a “go”[ing] to the bank with this stack,” an apparent reference to the debit cards that came in the mail.
Additionally, in October 2020, Baynes illegally possessed a 14-round semi-automatic handgun at his Hollywood Hills residence. Baynes was prohibited from possessing a firearm and ammunition because of his prior felony convictions, including a 2011 conviction for unlawful possession of a controlled substance with intent to sell in Tennessee and a 2014 felony conviction in Nevada federal court. possession of a firearm.
Finally, Baines also dealt drugs. on January 31, 2020 at Memphis International Airport. Baines attempted to search the bag, which contained various controlled substances, including oxycodone, promethazine with codeine, alprazolam and more than seven pounds of marijuana.
United States Department of Labor – Office of the Inspector General; United States Postal Inspection Service; IRS criminal investigation; and the California Department of Employment Development investigated the matter. The United States Marshals Service, the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Tennessee provided significant assistance.
Assistant United States Attorneys Ranee A. Katzenstein, head of the Major Fraud Unit, and Alexander B. Schwab, also of the Major Fraud Unit, prosecuted the case.
Anyone with information about allegations of attempted fraud related to Covid-19 can report it by calling the Department of Justice’s National Disaster Fraud Center Hotline at (866) 720-5721 or using NCDF’s web complaint form at https://www .justice. .gov/disaster-fraud/ncdf-disaster-complaint-form.