A Memphis rapper who bragged about scamming COVID-19 relief benefits from the government is set to plead guilty to federal charges of fraud. The artist is now looking at a combined maximum of 30 years in prison for lying about his need for pandemic unemployment assistance.
In 2021, the United States Secret Service said they helped the government recover over $2 billion in COVID-19-related financial fraud. Shockingly, one Southern rapper can count his name in their ranks of cheaters.
On Wednesday, July 6, the Department of Justice announced that Fontrell Antonio Baines, a rap artist whose stage name is Nuke Bizzle, has agreed to plead guilty to one count of mail fraud and one count of unlawful possession of a firearm and ammunition by a convicted felon.
With his plea, he now faces, according to the DOJ, “a statutory maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison for the mail fraud count and 10 years in federal prison for the unlawful firearm and ammunition possession count.”
The plea agreement has the 33-year-old admitting to unlawfully exploiting the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) provisions of the CARES Act from July 2020 to September 2020 in an effort to claim unemployment benefits he was not supposed to have.
This is a radical reversal from his not-guilty plea he made in 2020.
The PUA provisions were voted on by Congress to help those who are self-employed workers, independent contractors, and/or others challenged by the loss of work due to the global coronavirus pandemic.
The Tennessee native admitted to abusing the program after devising a plot to receive benefits from the state of California, accessing government funds administered by the California Employment Development Department (EDD), by applying for relief when he didn’t need it. He said over those three months, he filed 92 fraudulent PUA claim applications with EDD.
Baines completed several applications to receive the money, listing addresses in Beverly Hills and Koreatown as his domicile and using other people’s names. Upon approval, the Justice Department notes, he was able to get pre-loaded debit cards and access the emergency funds.
According to the Department of Justice, “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.”
EDD and the United States Treasury estimated that over that summer Baines attempted to gain approximately $1,256,108 and illegally acquired at least $704,760 in benefits.
In addition to the actual act of fraud, Baines bragged about stealing money from the government in his music videos on YouTube.
An affidavit filed with a criminal complaint, in this case, mentioned how Baines bragged in the song and music video titled “EDD” about how easy it was for him to defraud the system for personal gain. One scene in the video shows Baines holding up a stack of envelopes from EDD, and rhyming “go[ing] to the bank with a stack of these,” referencing the cards.
Baines did not operate alone but had a consortium of colleagues in on the scam.
In the “EDD” video, his partner rapped, “Unemployment so sweet. We had 1.5 land this week. You gotta sell cocaine, I can just file a claim.”
AllHipHop.com notes, that when the “Double Trouble” rapper was arrested on Sept. 23, he was in possession of eight of the cards at the time. All but one of these debit cards had the names of other people on them.
Baines has also admitted to illegally possessing a semi-automatic pistol with 14 rounds of ammunition in October 2020 at his Hollywood Hills residence. He is not permitted to have the weapon due to his criminal past, namely a 2011 previous felonious drug dealing conviction and a 2014 firearm possession conviction.
The Los Angeles Times reported the artist originally pleaded not guilty to three felony charges: access device fraud, aggravated identity theft, and interstate transportation of stolen property, but has since changed his position. If he is convicted of these charges, he could face a statutory maximum sentence of an additional 22 years in federal prison.
He is expected to enter the official plea in the federal courthouse in downtown Los Angeles in the near future.
As a result of his plea agreement, Baines will be forfeiting $56,750 of his personal money seized by law enforcement in 2020 during his arrest. It is not known if this money is directly from the fraud or from his entertainment career.
Baines is not the only rapper charged with scamming government COVID-19 assistance programs. Artists like Diamond “Baby Blue” Smith, Ace Hood, Mo Fayne, and 9lokkNine have all been arrested on charges of scamming benefits.
Of the four, Mo Fayne has been convicted and sentenced to 17 years in federal prison, and 9lokkNine, who was a teenager when he was arrested, has been sentenced to seven years.