When rapper Fontrell Antonio Baines, also known as, “Nuke Bizzle,” boasted in a music video about making a substantial sum of money through unemployment fraud, he apparently forgot that the feds could be watching. Now, the rapper is behind bars.
In a video titled, “EDD,” featuring rapper Fat Wizza, Baines brags openly about the money he’s garnered from unemployment. EDD is the Employment Development Department, California’s unemployment program. The lyrics describe waking up to hundreds of thousands of dollars and include a sound byte in the beginning that sounds like the EDD phone system reading out a card balance of $21,652. The video shows hundred-dollar bills and what appear to be legitimate mail correspondence from the EDD.
In the video description is a disclaimer; “***THIS VIDEO WAS CREATED WITH PROPS AND WAS MADE FOR ENTERTAINMENT PURPOSES***”
Federal authorities, however, don’t seem to buy it. They arrested Baines over the weekend.
What Are the Charges?
A statement by the Department of Justice reads, “A rapper who boasted in a YouTube music video about getting rich from committing unemployment benefits fraud was arrested today on federal charges of carrying out that very scheme by fraudulently applying for more than $1.2 million in jobless benefits, including by using stolen identities.
Fontrell Antonio Baines, 31, who uses the stage name ‘Nuke Bizzle,’ of Memphis, Tennessee and who currently resides in the Hollywood Hills, was arrested pursuant to a criminal complaint alleging a scheme to fraudulently obtain unemployment insurance benefits under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act). Baines is expected to make his initial appearance this afternoon in United States District Court in downtown Los Angeles.
Baines allegedly exploited the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) provision of the CARES Act, which is designed to expand access to unemployment benefits to self-employed workers, independent contractors, and others who would not otherwise be eligible.
According to an affidavit filed with the complaint, Baines possessed and used debit cards pre-loaded with unemployment benefits administered by the California Employment Development Department (EDD). The debit cards were issued in the names of third-parties, including identity theft victims. The applications for these debit cards listed addresses to which Baines had access in Beverly Hills and Koreatown.
Evidence gathered during the investigation established that at least 92 debit cards that had been pre-loaded with more than $1.2 million in fraudulently obtained benefits were mailed to these addresses, according to the affidavit. Baines and his co-schemers allegedly accessed more than $704,000 of these benefits through cash withdrawals, including in Las Vegas, as well as purchases of merchandise and services.
The affidavit further alleges that 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.’ For example, Baines appears 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 ‘go[ing] to the bank with a stack of these’ – presumably a reference to the debit cards that come in the mail. A second rapper in the video intones, ‘You gotta sell cocaine, I just file a claim….’
On September 23, Las Vegas police arrested Baines, who had in his possession eight debit cards, seven of which were in the names of other persons, the affidavit states.
A complaint contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
The criminal complaint alleges three felony offenses – access device fraud, aggravated identity theft, and interstate transportation of stolen property.”
Baines Could Face Significant Prison Time
The New York Times reports, “Fraud linked to identity theft accounted for about 3 percent of all unemployment claims last year, according to government audits. But as unemployment has skyrocketed because of the coronavirus crisis, so have fraudulent claims for unemployment assistance.
In September, Arizona said it had flagged as potentially fraudulent more than one million of 2.4 million unemployment claims — more than 40 percent. During a six-week period over the summer, Colorado found that 77 percent of new claims submitted under the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program were not legitimate.
Since March, Washington State has turned up nearly 87,000 cases in which cybercriminals have stolen or bought other people’s identities and used them to file fraudulent unemployment claims. From January 2018 to June 2019, there were just 184 such cases.”
Baines Will Appear Before the Court
Per DailyMail, “[Baines] was due to make an initial court appearance in Los Angeles on Friday afternoon, and it was unclear if he had an attorney to speak on his behalf.”
It’s not often that federal authorities have the details to their case spelled out in song form. Baines probably regrets the video right about now, but the proverbial cat is out of the bag. Baines will be spending less time dealing with BoA in the near future, and more time dealing with the DOJ.