A Baltimore-area rapper has pleaded guilty to a federal charge of conspiracy to commit wire fraud for charging millions of dollars on products and services meant to boost his music career to a company credit card.
Chad Arrington, who also goes by the stage name Chad Focus, pleaded guilty in federal court Monday as he faced charges that he used a company American Express card to spend about $4.1 million, which helped him maintain the illusion that Chad Focus was the “No. 1 recording artist in the world.”
As part of the plea, prosecutors are dropping six other related charges, including wire fraud and aggravated identity theft.
Arrington and his attorney declined to comment. He was seen outside the courtroom hugging his parents, who also declined to comment.
Wearing glasses and a full suit while hanging his head during much of the plea agreement, Arrington addressed only Judge Richard Bennett during Monday’s hearing, speaking so softly that the court clerk asked him to bring the microphone closer to his mouth.
It was a far cry from the boastful and lavish lifestyle prosecutors said Arrington tried to perpetuate by buying millions of dollars worth of expensive jewelry, musical equipment and social media followers as he attempted to create a successful rapper persona.
U.S. Attorney Derek Hines said Arrington “fraudulently bought followers, tags and views in order to make himself seem more popular."
The fraudulent self-promotion went further than just social media, Hines said, as Arrington spent $125,000 of the company’s money on concert tickets, including to his own concerts. He also used the company’s credit card to pay for a service to artificially inflate the play count for his songs on music streaming services, Hines said.
Hines said Focus promoted this idea of his own success through a series of billboards he also purchased with the money. He said one read “Get to the money” while another read “Chad Focus. I will teach you how to be rich.”
Bennett said the plea agreement also requires Arrington to pay back more than $4.1 million. He is set to be sentenced May 14 and faces up to 20 years in federal prison.
Court records do not name the company that issued Arrington’s credit card, although his LinkedIn page said he was working at the time in search engine optimization for Money Map Press, a subsidiary of the Baltimore publishing firm The Agora Companies.
Prosecutors did not name the company during Monday’s hearing, referring to it in court only as “Company One.”
A spokeswoman for The Agora Companies declined to comment Tuesday.
Federal investigators claim the fraudulent spending began in 2015, when Arrington allegedly started charging what would eventually amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars for national and international travel expenses. The spending eventually included music equipment, expensive jewelry and business ventures to bring bike-sharing programs to Maryland, according to the indictment.
Investigators say Arrington forged credit card banking statements and the signatures of supervisors with the help of several unnamed co-conspirators. More than $1 million of that spending went to entities and accounts controlled by four unidentified people, who in turn kicked back hundreds of thousands to the aspiring rapper, the indictment states.
While prosecutors spoke about several co-conspirators in the scheme, including some who helped create fake entries on credit card billing statements to conceal the fraudulent purchases, none were named during Monday’s hearing.
Only Arrington’s parents came to the hearing to support him.