Rapper Who Boasted in Music Video About Committing COVID Fraud Sentenced to Over 6 Years in Prison on Fraud, Gun and Drug Crimes | USAO-CDCA

CITY OF ANGELS – A rapper who bragged in a YouTube music video about getting rich quick by scamming a COVID relief program was sentenced today to 77 months in federal prison.

Fontrell Antonio Baines, 33, or “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). .

The sentence was passed today in relation to 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 money — ultimately more than $700,000 — to which he was not entitled.

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As the grip of the COVID-19 pandemic intensified, Congress enacted PUA provisions to expand access to unemployment benefits to self-employed workers, independent contractors, and others who would otherwise not be eligible.

Baines lost the program to receive unemployment benefits administered by the EDD in the names of third parties, including victims of identity theft. The benefit applications also included false statements about the named applicants’ work history and in-state residences. Through his fraud, Baines turned the taxpayer-funded program into a “personal trust 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 and use the debit cards EDD had 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 based on the fraudulent PUA claim filed in the Missouri man’s name to withdraw approximately $2,500.

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Baines filed 92 fraudulent PUA claims with EDD, resulting in attempted losses of approximately $1,256,108 to EDD and the United States Treasury and actual losses of at least $704,760.

According to court documents, Baines bragged about his ability to defraud the EDD in a music video posted to YouTube and in posts to his Instagram account. In the music video for “EDD,” Baines talks about doing “my swagger for EDD” and, holding up cover stocks from EDD, getting rich by “going[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 semi-automatic pistol with 14 rounds of ammunition. Baines was barred from possessing the firearm and ammunition due to his previous felony convictions, including a 2011 conviction in Tennessee state court for unlawful possession of a controlled substance with intent to sell and convicted in Nevada federal court in 2014 of being a felon in possession of a firearm.

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Finally, Baines also trafficked narcotics. 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.

United States Department of Labor – Office of Inspector General; United States Postal Inspection Service; IRS Criminal Investigation; and the California Department of Employment Development investigated this matter. 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 substantial assistance.

Assistant United States Attorney Ranee A. Katzenstein, Chief of the Major Fraud Section, and Alexander B. Schwab, also of the Major Fraud Section, prosecuted this 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 through the Web Complaint Form the NCDF at: https://www.justice. .gov/disaster-fraud/ncdf-disaster-complaint-form.


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