Rapper Who Boasted Of Virus Relief Fraud Faces Charges

By Amanda Ottaway
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Law360 (October 16, 2020, 7:17 PM EDT) -- A rapper who appeared in an online music video in which he bragged about committing unemployment fraud has been arrested and faces charges including fraud and identity theft, federal prosecutors in California said Friday.

Fontrell Antonio Baines of Hollywood Hills, whose stage name is Nuke Bizzle, was arrested Friday by federal authorities and charged with fraud, aggravated identity theft and interstate transportation of stolen property, according to an affidavit filed Thursday in Los Angeles federal court. Prosecutors say he faces up to 22 years in prison.

In his song "EDD," which according to its YouTube page launched on Sept. 11 and has garnered more than 408,000 views, Baines and other musicians lob lines like "Unemployment so sweet, we had 1.5 land this week," and "You got to sell cocaine, I can just file a claim."

The EDD, or California's Employment Development Department, handles payments for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance benefits, which were established by the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act to cover self-employed and other workers such as independent contractors who aren't eligible for traditional unemployment.

"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," according to a press release Friday from the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Central District of California.

In the video, the musicians use a laptop that "appears to show EDD's homepage," said the affidavit, and hold up envelopes with the EDD logo on them. By Sept. 15, the feds were using the video to identify the performers.

According to the affidavit, federal investigators used the addresses on the envelopes in the video to track down the actual claims for which they were filed. For example, one of the envelopes is reportedly addressed to a self-employed barber who had a household member with COVID-19 and applied for PUA benefits.

Other lines in the song include "10 cards, swiping 10K a day" and "I did my swagger with EDD, go to the bank with a stack of these," according to prosecutors, the latter of which they said is "presumably a reference to the debit cards that come in the mail" preloaded with EDD benefit funds.

Baines allegedly rented a property in the Carla Ridge neighborhood in Beverly Hills to which the EDD mailed 74 debit cards, according to the affidavit, as well as another 18 to a different address, totaling more than $1.2 million in PUA benefits.

Baines was separately arrested in September by police in Las Vegas, according to a spokesperson for the Central District of California in a phone interview Friday. He was arrested by federal agents Friday at Los Angeles International Airport, the spokesperson said.

The press release from the U.S. Attorney's office said Vegas police, who pulled over a car for speeding in which Baines was a passenger, found eight debit cards on him, seven of which were in other people's names, and according to the affidavit two of the cards had values of more than $15,000 and $16,000.

The U.S. Attorney's Office did not comment beyond the contents of the press release and the affidavit, and the federal defenders did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Baines is represented by Ashley Mahmoudian.

The government is represented by Ranee A. Katzenstein of the U.S. Department of Justice's Criminal Division.

The case is U.S. v. Baines, case number 2:20-mj-04992, in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.

--Editing by Adam LoBelia.

For a reprint of this article, please contact reprints@law360.com.

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