Fyre Festival Organizer Sentenced to Six Years in Federal Prison


Fyre Festival Organizer Sentenced to Six Years in Federal Prison

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Billy McFarland leaving court after pleading guilty to wire-fraud charges in March. He was sentenced to six years in prison on Thursday.CreditCreditMark Lennihan/Associated Press
  • Oct. 11, 2018

The disgraced organizer of the disastrous Fyre music festival in the Bahamas, an audacious scheme that defrauded investors and left hundreds of ticket buyers stranded on an island, was sentenced on Thursday to six years in prison by a federal judge in Manhattan.

The organizer, Billy McFarland, 26, was also sentenced for running a sham ticket-selling business — but that fraud was run-of-the-mill compared with the Fyre Festival, which had been promoted by A-list social media influencers but imploded just as publicly on Instagram and Twitter. Mr. McFarland had promised an event with luxury accommodations and performances by bands like Blink-182, but the festival in fact never took place, leaving attendees wandering unfinished sites on the island of Great Exuma in the Bahamas.

In March, Mr. McFarland pleaded guilty to two counts of wire fraud after investigators concluded that he had defrauded investors in his company, Fyre Media, as well as a subsidiary that had promoted the music festival, resulting in $24 million in losses.

Then in July, Mr. McFarland pleaded guilty to two more counts of fraud related to another company that he ran while out on bail that sold fake tickets to fashion, music and sports events and was said to have cost at least 30 victims a minimum of about $150,000.

Prosecutors said that the music festival, which was to have taken place in 2017, was the product of an elaborate scheme. The festival’s website identified its location as Fyre Cay, a fictional place that was described as a private island that had once belonged to the drug lord Pablo Escobar.

Actually, Mr. McFarland secured some land on Great Exuma just weeks before the festival and hired workers who scrambled to prepare for the event. But as ticket holders arrived, Mr. McFarland’s plans unraveled and the festival was canceled. His celebrity business partner in Fyre Media, the rapper Ja Rule, posted on social media that he was “heartbroken” about the chaos.

From late 2017 until early 2018, Mr. McFarland ran a company called NYC VIP Access that sold bogus tickets to events like the Met Gala, Coachella, Burning Man and the Super Bowl. In one case, prosecutors said, two customers flew from Florida to New York for the Grammy Awards, only to be turned away at the door.

In a sentencing memorandum, prosecutors called Mr. McFarland “the consummate con artist,” adding: “He betrayed and deceived his investors, customers, and employees while he was living the high life at his luxury apartment, traveling to exclusive locales, staying at luxury hotels, being chauffeured in his Maserati, and entertaining himself and his friends at restaurants, bars, and casinos.”

They also accused Mr. McFarland of lacking remorse, citing a line from a report by a forensic psychiatrist Dr. Andrew Levin, who evaluated the defendant. Regarding the VIP Access operations, Dr. Levin wrote: “He did not feel that what he did was wrong.”

Defense lawyers countered that Mr. McFarland had made a genuine effort to use the money he got from investors on a flawed business plan, had been responsible for charitable acts and had suffered from untreated mental illness.

They also said that the prosecution’s assertion about their client’s degree of remorse was based upon “one stray, misinterpreted line.”

Although Mr. McFarland may not have thought he was wrong while running VIP Access, he had come to see things differently, those lawyers wrote, adding: “As Billy has unequivocally acknowledged, that is fraud.”

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