A hip-hop artist faces up to 22 years in prison if convicted in a court of law on federal charges in connection with an alleged identity-theft-related alleged unemployment benefits scam that may have been portrayed in YouTube music video that premiered in September.
In a rap video called “EDD” that has racked up about 650,000 views as of this writing, the artist known as Nuke Bizzle appears to be bragging about becoming rich from allegedly or purportedly ripping off the California Employment Development Department. The footage comes with a disclaimer, however, that it “was created with props and made for entertainment purposes.”
A statement issued on Friday, October 16, from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California claims that 90-plus debit cards “pre-loaded with more than $1.2 million in fraudulently obtained benefits” issued in the name of third parties, including victims of identity theft, were mailed to addresses in the Los Angeles area to which the suspect had access. Bizzle and his associates allegedly made cash withdrawals of about $700,000 from those cards, along with making various purchases with them, authorities claim.
The benefits were issued pursuant to Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) and were meant for independent contractors and self-employed individuals who lost out on work in the pandemic.
In the rap video, Bizzle and another artist appear to be holding stacks of benefits envelopes and currency while exulting about how they are getting rich.
“Baines… boasts about doing ‘my swagger for EDD’ and, holding up a stack of envelopes from EDD, getting rich by ‘go[ing] to the bank with a stack of these’ – presumably a reference to the debit cards that come in the mail. A second rapper in the video intones, ‘You gotta sell cocaine, I just file a claim….,’” the U.S. Attorney’s office noted.
Watch the video embedded below and draw your own conclusions:
Las Vegas cops who arrested Bizzle (whose real name, according to authorities, is Fontrell Antonio Baines, and is originally from Memphis, Tenn.) on September 23 and reportedly found eight debit cards in his possession at the time, most of which were reportedly made out to other persons. Offices also reportedly found nearly $50,000 in the vehicle.
Authorities charged Baines with access device fraud, aggravated identity theft, and interstate transportation of stolen property, all of which are felonies, and his arrest was the culmination of a investigation by the U.S Labor Department, the Postal Service, the IRS, and California officials.
Baines pleaded not guilty to the charges and bonded out.
In court, federal prosecutors will have to prove that the rap video was fact rather than fiction/artistic license. As the statement explained “Every defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.”
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