A rapper who boasted in a music video about getting rich by fraudulently applying for unemployment benefits has been accused of using stolen identities to obtain more than $1.2 million in jobless benefits, the authorities said.
Fontrell Antonio Baines, 31, who performs as Nuke Bizzle, was arrested on Friday and charged with three felonies: access device fraud, aggravated identity theft and interstate transportation of stolen property, federal prosecutors said. If convicted, he faces up to 22 years in prison.
Mr. Baines, who is from Memphis and lives in Los Angeles, used stolen identities to apply for unemployment benefits through California’s Employment Development Department, the U.S. attorney’s office for the Southern District of California said in a statement.
The money was distributed as part of a federal program that extended unemployment benefits to self-employed workers, independent contractors and others who found themselves without a safety net during the coronavirus pandemic.
The authorities said that 92 debit cards loaded with a total of more than $1.2 million in benefits were mailed to addresses that Mr. Baines had access to in Beverly Hills and the Koreatown neighborhood of Los Angeles. Mr. Baines gained access to more than $704,000 through cash withdrawals, some of which were made in Las Vegas, the authorities said.
When the Las Vegas police arrested Mr. Baines on Sept. 23, he was in possession of eight debit cards, seven of which were not in his name, according to court documents.
Mr. Baines did not respond to requests for comment on Sunday. It was not clear if he had a lawyer.
In a music video for the song “EDD” that was posted to YouTube on Sept. 11, Mr. Baines and another rapper, Fat Wizza, boasted about getting “rich off of E.D.D.,” an apparent reference to the Employment Development Department.
The rappers brag in the video about their “swagger for E.D.D.” while holding stacks of E.D.D. envelopes, and about getting rich by going “to the bank with a stack of these.”
A disclaimer below the video says that it was made with props “for entertainment purposes.” It is not clear when the disclaimer was added.
Mr. Baines also bragged about the scheme in videos posted to his Instagram accounts, according to an affidavit.
Fraud linked to identity theft accounted for about 3 percent of all unemployment claims last year, according to government audits. But as unemployment has skyrocketed because of the coronavirus crisis, so have fraudulent claims for unemployment assistance.
In September, Arizona said it had flagged as potentially fraudulent more than one million of 2.4 million unemployment claims — more than 40 percent. During a six-week period over the summer, Colorado found that 77 percent of new claims submitted under the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program were not legitimate.
Since March, Washington State has turned up nearly 87,000 cases in which cybercriminals have stolen or bought other people’s identities and used them to file fraudulent unemployment claims. From January 2018 to June 2019, there were just 184 such cases.