LOS ANGELES – A rapper who bragged in a YouTube music video about getting rich quick by defrauding a COVID aid program was sentenced today to 77 months in federal prison.
Fontrell Antonio Baines, 33, aka “Nuke Bizzle,” of Memphis, Tennessee, was sentenced by U.S. 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 handed down in connection with three criminal cases. Baines pleaded guilty on July 11 to one count of mail fraud and, in a separate case, to one 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.
From July 2020 to September 2020, Baines illegally took advantage of the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) provisions of the CARES Act to obtain unemployment insurance benefits—ultimately more than $700,000—for which he was not entitled.
As the grip of the COVID-19 pandemic tightened, Congress implemented the PUA provisions to expand access to unemployment benefits to self-employed workers, independent contractors, and others who would not otherwise be eligible for them.
Baines defrauded the program to obtain unemployment benefits administered by the EDD in the names of third parties, including identity theft victims. The applications for benefits also contained false statements about the named applicants’ work histories and state residence. Through his fraud, Baines turned the taxpayer-funded program into “his personal piggy bank,” according to a sentencing memorandum filed by federal prosecutors.
The applications for these benefits listed addresses in Beverly Hills and Koreatown that Baines had access to. As a result, Baines was able to take possession of debit cards and use the debit cards that the EDD preloaded with the unemployment benefits obtained through the 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, Baines used a debit card issued on the basis of the fraudulent PUA claim filed in the Missouri man’s name to withdraw approximately $2,500.
Baines filed 92 fraudulent PUA claims with the EDD, resulting in attempted losses to the EDD and the United States Treasury Department of approximately $1,256,108 and actual losses of at least $704,760.
According to court documents, Baines bragged about his ability to deceive the EDD in a music video posted on YouTube and in posts on his Instagram account. In the music video called “EDD”, Baines boasts about doing “my swagger for EDD” and holding up a stack of envelopes from EDD and getting rich by “go”[ing] to the bank with a stack of these” – an apparent reference to the debit cards that came in the mail.
Additionally, in October 2020, at his Hollywood Hills residence, Baines illegally possessed a 14-round semi-automatic handgun. Baines was prohibited from possessing the firearm and ammunition due to his prior felony convictions, including a 2011 conviction in Tennessee state court for unlawful possession of a controlled substance with intent to sell and a 2014 conviction in Nevada federal court for being a felon in possession of a firearm.
Finally, Baines also dealt drugs. On January 31, 2020 at Memphis International Airport. Baines attempted to check a bag containing various controlled substances, including oxycodone, promethazine with codeine, alprazolam and more than seven pounds of marijuana.
US Department of Labor – Office of Inspector General; United States Postal Inspection Service; IRS Criminal Investigation; and the California Employment Development Department investigated this case. The United States Marshals Service, the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department and the United States Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Tennessee provided significant assistance.
Assistant United States Attorneys Ranee A. Katzenstein, Chief of the Major Frauds Section, and Alexander B. Schwab, also of the Major Frauds Section, prosecuted this case.
Anyone with information about allegations of attempted fraud involving COVID-19 can report it by calling the Department of Justice’s National Center for Disaster Fraud Hotline at (866) 720-5721 or via the NCDF Web Complaint Form at: https://www .justice .gov/disaster-fraud/ncdf-disaster-complaint-form.