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Fyre Festival organiser Billy McFarland jailed for six years

McFarland, 26, showed a "disturbing pattern of deception" in his role in organising two separate fraudulent schemes, says prosecutor Geoffrey Berman

By Jon Chapple on 12 Oct 2018

Billy McFarland

image © Ian Moran (I to Z Photo + Video)

The 26-year-old founder of Fyre Festival has been sentenced to six years in prison for his role in organising and promoting the ill-fated April 2017 event.

Billy McFarland pled guilty in March to defrauding investors out of more than US$26m by misrepresenting the financial health of his company, Fyre Media, by “grossly inflat[ing] the company’s revenue and income”. In June he also pleaded guilty to running a fraudulent ticket scam, through his company NYC VIP Access, that involved selling non-existent tickets to events including Burning Man, Coachella and the 2018 Grammys using Fyre Festival customer data.

McFarland was also charged with one count of bank fraud, for writing a cheque in an employee’s name without authorisation, and making false statements to law enforcement.

Fyre Festival – billed as “the adventure of a lifetime” amid the “beautiful turquoise waters and idyllic beaches” of the island of Grand Exuma, in the Bahamas – spectacularly collapsed on its first day, with festivalgoers arriving on the island to find a half-built festival site and no sign of the luxury accommodation and dining included with their $1,500–$50,000 tickets.

“McFarland found out the hard way that empty promises don’t lead to jet-setting, champagne, and extravagant parties – they lead to federal prison”

McFarland (pictured) co-founded the event with Jeffrey Atkins (Ja Rule)’s Fyre Media company, but “ran the show”, says Atkins, who has denied liability for the disaster and has not been charged.

Sentencing, US district Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald yesterday ordered McFarland to be jailed for six years, followed by three years of supervised release. Buchwald also ordered him to forfeit $26,191,306.28.

Manhattan US attorney Geoffrey Berman comments: “Billy McFarland has shown a disturbing pattern of deception, which resulted in investors and customers losing over $26 million in two separate fraud schemes. As he had previously admitted, Billy McFarland did not deliver on his promises to his investors and customers.

“Today, McFarland found out the hard way that empty promises don’t lead to jet-setting, champagne, and extravagant parties – they lead to federal prison.”


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