Founder of disastrous Fyre Festival arrested, charged with fraud
One of the organizers of the disastrous Fyre Festival has been arrested and charged with wire fraud, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York.
Billy McFarland was arrested Friday in New York and accused of making “false representations to investors” in his company, Fyre Media LLC, and in a “luxury” music festival that had been set to take place in the Bahamas over two weekends in April and May.
Acting Manhattan U.S. Attorney Joon Kim said in a statement Friday that McFarland allegedly presented fake documents to induce investors to put over $1 million into his company.
“William McFarland promised a ‘life changing’ music festival but in actuality delivered a disaster,” Kim said. “Thanks to the investigative efforts of the FBI, McFarland will now have to answer for his crimes.”
McFarland, 25, appeared Saturday before a judge and was released from jail on a $300,000 bond, according to Variety.
McFarland had promoted the Fyre Festival as “More than just a music festival,” promising not only live music, but also luxurious accommodations, gourmet meals and the opportunity to mingle with celebrities on a private island in the Bahamas. In exchange, attendees paid from $450 to $250,000.
Expectations were high. Instead, the festival collapsed in spectacular, public fashion.
When attendees arrived in the Exumas, a group of islands belonging to the Bahamas, they discovered that the luxury accommodations were actually disasterrelief tents on the beach, some still not set up. Cheese sandwiches made up the “gourmet meals,” and organizers seemed to be equally in the dark, sometimes literally, about what was supposed to happen. Blink-182, one of the headliners, pulled out at the last minute.
In April, McFarland and his Fyre Festival co-founder, the rapper Ja Rule, had defended their intentions amid accusations that they had set out to defraud people.
According to the U.S. attorney’s office, one way McFarland did so was by artificially inflating his company’s revenue and income, telling investors that Fyre Media had earned “millions of dollars of revenue” from “thousands of artist bookings” between July 2016 and April 2017.
“In reality, during that approximate time period, Fyre Media earned less than $60,000 in revenue from approximately 60 artist bookings,” the office added.
The complaint alleges that, with at least one investor, McFarland backed up his claims to vast sums of money with a doctored brokerage statement that made it appear he owned shares of a stock worth more than $2.5 million.
In reality, the shares he owned in that stock were valued at less than $1,500, the complaint states.
“McFarland truly put on a show, misrepresenting the financial status of his businesses in order to rake in lucrative investment deals,” William F. Sweeney Jr., assistant director-in-charge of the FBI’s New York Field Office, said in a statement. “In the end, the very public failure of the Fyre Festival signaled that something just wasn’t right.”
Wire fraud carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
Representatives for Fyre Media referred questions to an attorney, Stacey Richman, who did not respond to an email request for comment Saturday.
Billy McFarland, right, leaves federal court with his attorney, Sabrina Shroff, after his arraignment on July 1 in New York. He is charged with scheming to defraud investors in his company, Fyre Media, and had promised to hold a “luxury” musical festival.