Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times via Getty
A Tennessee musician has been sentenced to 77 months in prison after stealing over $700,000 in COVID-19 unemployment benefits and allegedly bragging about it in a music video.
Fontrell Antonio Baines — known by his moniker "Nuke Bizzle" — has been ordered to pay back $704,760 in restitution to the California Employment Development Department (EDD) and was sentenced by United States District Judge Michael W. Fitzgerald, per a statement from the U.S. Attorney's Office Central District of California. On top of the fraud case, Baines, 33, pleaded guilty to separate gun and drug counts.
Prosecutors said that Baines used other people's names or stolen identities to collect the unemployment benefits, only to later discuss it in a music video uploaded to YouTube.
The September 2020 video titled "EDD" — the acronym of California's Employment Development Department — featured people checking the mail as another artist raps "You gotta sell cocaine, I can just file a claim." In another verse, Baines held up a stack of envelopes from EDD, and claimed he was getting rich by "go[ing] to the bank with a stack of these."
Baines' fraud lasted from July to September 2020, per prosecutors. During that time, he filed 92 fraudulent PUA claims with EDD. "The applications for these benefits listed addresses in Beverly Hills and Koreatown to which Baines had access, a release from the U.S. Attorney's Office for central California reads. "As a result, Baines was able to take possession of and use the debit cards that EDD pre-loaded with the unemployment benefits obtained through the fraudulent applications."
"Every day that I think about what I did I regret my actions and the impact my crime had on others," Baines later wrote in a letter to the judge, per NBC News.
His charges also include unlawful possession of a firearm and ammunition by a convicted felon and possession of oxycodone with intent to distribute, per the U.S. attorney's office for Central California.
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Among Baines' unemployment fraud was one instance of him taking up the identity of a Missouri man who attended school in California, when he "used a debit card issued based on the fraudulent PUA claim filed in the Missouri man's name to withdraw approximately $2,500," per authorities.
Back in May, Austin St. John (real name Jason Lawrence Geiger) who played the Red Power Ranger Jason Lee Scott in Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, was arrested after an FBI raid at his home in McKinney, Texas for alleged COVID-related wire fraud.
At the time, a federal indictment alleged that 18 people — including St. John — attempted to defraud the Small Business Administration's Paycheck Protection Program while the program was used to provide relief to struggling businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns that began in 2020.
In total, the 18 defendants allegedly received more than $3.5 million across 16 separate small business loans. Geiger must enter a plea agreement or request continuance by Dec. 19 or the case will go to trial in January.