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Rapper Nuke Bizzle gets 77 months after bragging about stealing pandemic aid

The rapper was also sentenced for being a felon in possession of a firearm, the same offense he served time for previously.

LOS ANGELES (CN) — Rapper Nuke Bizzle will spend 77 months in federal prison after admitting he stole more than $700,000 in Covid-19 unemployment benefits — and bragged about it in a music video posted on YouTube.

Bizzle, 33, whose real name is Fontrell Antonio Baines, was also ordered to pay $705,000 in restitution at his sentencing hearing Wednesday in Los Angeles. The rapper's prison sentence covers his guilty pleas to two separate crimes — illegal possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and a drug trafficking charge related to an attempt smuggle a bag with opioids and marijuana on a flight out of Memphis.

U.S. District Judge Michael Fitzgerald didn't impose the 8-year sentence the government had asked for, observing that Baines wasn't the mastermind behind the pandemic fraud scheme. The judge however noted, in reference to Baines's felon-in-possession conviction, that he wasn't accustomed to seeing defendants before him who had already done time in federal prison for the same offense.

Between July and September of 2020, during the height of Covid-19 lockdown, Baines participated in a scheme to file bogus claims for pandemic unemployment benefits with the California Employment Development Department in the names of other people, many who had never worked in California, purporting to be from self-employed barbers who couldn't work during the shutdown. The payments were then sent to two of Baines's addresses, including his rented Beverly Hills mansion.

Baines and his co-schemers filed about 92 such claims, according to the government, and tried to get as much $1.3 million in illegal benefits.

"From drug dealing to DUIs to hit-and-runs to defrauding Covid-19 relief funds, defendant has misspent nearly the entirety of his adult life committing a series of crimes in multiple jurisdictions," the government said in its request for an 8-year prison term. "Defendant's frequent arrests and periods of incarceration appear to have done nothing to dissuade him from violating the law."

The rapper bragged about his ability to defraud the EDD in a music video posted on YouTube and in postings to his Instagram account, according to the government. In the music video called “EDD,” Baines boasts about doing “my swagger for EDD” and, while holding up a stack of envelopes from EDD, getting rich by “go[ing] to the bank with a stack of these” in an apparent reference to the debit cards that came in the mail.

Baines apologized at Wednesday's hearing to his family, friends and the court for embarrassing himself and said he accepted responsibility for his actions.

"I truly regret this thing that happened," he told the judge. "Especially the music video."

In their bid for leniency, Baines' lawyers said he was just an another pawn in the fraud scheme and didn't orchestrate it. His co-schemers who conceived of the scheme asked the rapper to let them use his address, according to the lawyers, and told him that if he collected the delivered mail for them, he would receive cash in exchange for the mail. Baines didn't himself file the applications for unemployment benefits, they said.

His attorneys also cited Baines' troubled childhood, growing up in the midst of poverty and violence in Memphis. He doesn't know or have a relationship with his father, who he believes is incarcerated in Tennessee, and his mother was rarely around either and also in and out of prison and jail when he was young, they said. He and his four brothers were raised by an aunt who was addicted to crack cocaine and who verbally abused the children.

"When Mr. Baines looks back on his 33 years, he laments that he did not have anyone in his life to push or guide him," his lawyers said. "No one showed him what life was like outside the housing project in which he grew up or told him that he could have a better life. He knows he is a smart person, but he had nowhere to channel his intelligence. Mr. Baines believes he failed everybody, especially his children and younger brothers, for whom he wanted to make a better life."

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