Rapper Nuke Bizzle, whose real name is Fontrell Antonio Baines, boasted last year in a YouTube video about getting rich by stealing pandemic-related unemployment benefits and agreed this week to plead guilty to fraud and firearms charges.
Baines, 33, who is from Memphis, Tennessee, is pleading guilty to one federal charge of mail fraud and one count of unlawful possession of ammunition and a firearm by a convicted felon. He’s expected to officially plead guilty to the charges in US District Court in LA this month.
Baines Stole CARES Act Funds in 2020
According to the federal plea agreement, Baines illegally exploited the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) rules of the federal CARES Act to get unemployment benefits to which he wasn’t entitled.
The US Congress implemented the PUA rules to improve access to unemployment benefits to people who are self-employed, including independent contractors, who were otherwise unable to receive benefits. Baines exploited the program to obtain illicit funds that were overseen by the California Employment Development Department or EDD in the names of several third parties.
The applications for these unemployment benefits stole the identity of a man in Missouri who went to college briefly in California briefly but never was employed there. In September 2020, Baines took advantage of a debit card that was issued because of a phony PUA claim that was filed under the man’s name in Missouri. Baines took out about $2500.
Baines, who has been held by the feds since October 2020, told federal law enforcement that he made 92 phony claims with EDD, which resulted in losses to the US Treasury and the state of California of about $1.2 million.
Baines Boasted In Music Video ‘EDD’ That He Ripped Off The Government
According to the criminal complaint in the federal case, Baines boasted online about how he ripped off EDD.
He made the comments in the lyrics of the music video ‘EDD.’ In the video, Baines said that he was doing ‘my swagger for EDD,’ and showing the camera a stack of EDD envelopes, claimed he was ‘getting rich by going to the bank’ with a stack of the EDD documents. He was probably referencing the fact that the envelopes contained debit cards.
Further, Baines conceded that in 2020 in Hollywood Hills, he illegally obtained a pistol with 15 rounds of ammunition. The rapper was outlawed from keeping a firearm from keeping a gun because he had several earlier felony convictions. One of them was from 2011 in Tenessee where he illegally carried controlled substances with the intent to sell them.
He also was convicted in Nevada in 2014 for possessing a firearm as a felon.
After Baines enters his guilty pleas, he’ll face a maximum federal prison sentence of 20 years for mail fraud and 10 years for the unlawful firearm and ammunition count. He also agreed to give up funds totalling $56,750 that were seized by the US government earlier.
Originally Arrested in September 2020 in Las Vegas
Baines’ fraud case dates to September 2020 when he was arrested in Las Vegas in possession of eight EDD debit cards. All but one of them were in other people’s names, the affidavit stated.
The music video he made where he bragged about stealing EDD funds was posted on YouTube on September 11, 2020 and had more than 500,000 views.
Other Cases Of EDD Fraud During The Pandemic
Baines was far from the only one who stole unemployment funds in California and other parts of the country during the pandemic.
In a press release last month, California’s EDD said thieves tried to steal hundreds of millions of dollars with fax and paper applications. The department has stopped about 47,000 phony unemployment insurance scams worth about $560 million.
However, criminals continue to steal people’s identities and pose as them to steal unemployment funds.
A recent victim in California was Violetta Corral. In June, the woman who lives in Davis, California, began to get EDD envelopes with her name and address. This was a few weeks after the department said it had blocked several fraud attempts. In the envelopes were letters that siad she was approved for unemployment insurance.
She also was told she needed to register for employment but she already had a job and didn’t apply for unemployment or disability.
This wasn’t the first time Corral had her identity stolen. The media first met her in January 2022 when a fraudster filed under her name for disability benefits. After the disability fraud, Corral filed several fraud reports, froze her credit, and began working with the DA’s office in Sacramento.
She said that when the DA told her they had stopped the ID theft and she was happy. But then she went to her mailbox and there were four more EDD letters there.
It’s estimated by the California government that it has paid $20 billion in phony benefits durin the pandemic. More than two years after the pandemic started, phony claims are still pouring in.
Another EDD fraud victim reported to the local media that she got several EDD envelopes delivered to her home but they were addressed to others. Those envelopes started to appear in June.
The DA in Sacramento reported that the pandemic EDD fraud numbers are dropping because of ID.me verification, but it is still a problem.