LOS ANGELES — The video sizzles, but the career of rapper Nuke Bizzle may be fizzling.
The hip-hop artist, who bragged in a YouTube video about getting rich by committing unemployment fraud, is accused of stealing more than $1.2 million in unemployment benefits issued during the coronavirus pandemic, federal authorities said Friday.
In a news release, Fontrell Antonio Baines, 31, of Memphis, whose stage name is “Nuke Bizzle,” was arrested Friday and charged with access device fraud, aggravated identity theft, and interstate transportation of stolen property -- all felonies -- according to a criminal complaint filed by the U.S. Department of Justice, Central District of California. If convicted, Baines would face a maximum sentence of 22 years in federal prison.
The criminal complaint alleges that Baines was involved in a scheme to fraudulently obtain unemployment insurance benefits under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, the Los Angeles Times reported.
“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,” federal officials said.
In the music video “EDD,” a reference to the California Employment Development Department, Baines raps about doing “my swagger for EDD” and holds up a stack of benefits envelopes and bank cards, the newspaper reported. He adds in the video that he is getting rich by "go(ing) to the bank with a stack of these.”
Baines, who currently lives in the Hollywood Hills, was arrested Sept. 23 by Las Vegas police while riding in a Cadillac Escalade, KCBS reported. According to the criminal complaint, Baines was found to be in possession of eight EDD debit cards, seven of which were in the names of other people, the television station reported.
Las Vegas police also found $49,734 under the third row of seats where Baines was seated, according to the affidavit. Baines pleaded not guilty to charges related to the arrest and was released on bail, the Times reported.
According to the affidavit, federal investigators discovered at least 92 EDD debit cards preloaded with more than $1.2 million in fraudulently obtained benefits mailed to addresses that Baines had access to. Investigators also said Baines and his co-schemers allegedly withdrew or spent more than $704,000 in cash from these cards, the Times reported.
On the video for “EDD,” Baines added a disclaimer: “This video was created with props and was made for entertainment purposes,” the newspaper reported.