The recent behavior of a Los Angeles rapper provides a case study on what not to do when facing potential tax charges. Fontrell Antonio Baines, better known by his stage name Nuke Bizzle, was allegedly involved in a fraud scheme where fake names and addresses were used to apply for and receive unemployment insurance benefits totaling $1.2 million. The benefits were administered by the California Employment Development Department (EDD). They were also tied to the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which provided additional money to unemployed people during the pandemic. Baines's activity was discovered when he created a YouTube music video in which he talked about “getting rich off EDD.” He also made posts to his Instagram accounts that bragged about defrauding California EDD. Such a blatant disregard for the law generated a response from law enforcement.
His behavior led to an arrest, and he was charged with three felony counts of access device fraud, aggravated identity theft, and interstate transportation of stolen property.
Now, if convicted, Baines faces up to 22 years in prison. There are some key lessons from his behavior.
The most obvious lesson is not to admit to engaging in fraudulent schemes on social media. In an era where young people provide regular updates on all their activities, social media can seem like a personal space. However, it is not. Social media information can be used as evidence by state and federal prosecutors seeking to punish people who engage in various types of illegal activity. The activity Baines bragged about is precisely what he was arrested for. He made the case against himself easier. While his behavior may seem extreme, even savvier individuals are caught using email and other communication tools for schemes. Federal and state officials can review these sources of communication and use them for evidence.
The next lesson is that behavior of this nature carries hefty punishment. The $1.2 million that he received could have been made in a few years of diligent work. Instead, he may spend the prime years of his life behind bars.
If you are charged with a tax crime, don't follow Mr. Baine's example – but DO seek the advice of a qualified tax attorney to prevent financial harm and avoid prison time. Call Brandon A. Keim at (602) 200-7399 today.