A 31-year-old rapper from Tennessee, who boasted about becoming rich by committing unemployment benefits fraud in a YouTube music video, was arrested on Friday. He has been federally charged with carrying out the scheme by fraudulently seeking over $1.2 million in jobless benefits, which also included the use of stolen identities.
Fontrell Antonio Baines, whose stage name is "Nuke Bizzle", is originally from Memphis, Tennessee, and currently resides in the Hollywood Hills area of Los Angeles in California. He was arrested based on a criminal complaint that alleged he was involved in a scheme to fraudulently obtain unemployment insurance benefits under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act).
Baines is alleged to have exploited the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) provision of the CARES Act, whose aim is to provide access to unemployment benefits for independent contractors, self-employed workers, and others who would not be eligible otherwise.
Scheme to Defraud Coronavirus Unemployment Benefits
The affidavit filed along with the complaint states that Baines was in possession of and used debit cards pre-loaded with unemployment benefits administered by the California Employment Development Department (EDD). The debit cards had been issued to third-parties, including victims of identity theft. The address listed in the applications of the debit cards were those that Baines had access to in Koreatown and Beverly Hills.
During the investigation, evidence collected proved that around 92 debit cards preloaded with over $1.2 million in fraudulently secured benefits were mailed to the addresses provided by Baines. The wrappers and co-conspirators purportedly accessed over $704,000 of the procured amount through cash withdrawals, including some in Las Vegas, and through the purchase of services and merchandise.
Bragging About Defrauding the EDD
Also alleged in the affidavit is that Baines gloated about his defrauding of the EDD in a music video that he posted on YouTube, and also in posts on to his Instagram account, under the profile names "nukebizzle23" and "nukebizzle1". In a music video titled "EDD", Baines bragged about doing "my swagger for EDD".
He also held up a stack of envelopes from EDD and wrapped about getting rich by "go[ing] to the bank with a stack of these", potentially a reference to the debit cards that come in the mail. A second rapper in the video recites, "You gotta sell cocaine, I just file a claim...."
The Las Vegas police arrested Baines on 23 September. At the time of arrest, eight debit cards—of which seven were in the names of other individuals—were found in his possession the affidavit stated. Three felony charges have been alleged in the criminal complaint: access device fraud, aggravated identity theft, and interstate transportation of stolen property. If Baines is convicted, he may be handed a statutory maximum sentence of 22 years in federal prison.