Talent agencies embroiled in Fyre Fest lawsuit
A Fyre Festival trustee has filed a lawsuit against major talent agencies, demanding a return of fees paid to artists they represented to play in the failed event.
Multiple artists were paid to perform at the festival, at which no music was ever played, despite fans paying between $1,500 and $50,000 for tickets. Festival organiser Billy McFarland was later given a six-year prison sentence for fraud and ordered to pay a $23 million fine.
A festival trustee is now attempting to sue Creative Artists Agency (CAA), United Talent Agency (UTA), ICM Partners and Nue Agency for a collective sum of over US$1.75m.
New York’s Nue Agency is facing the greatest amount, with the trustee reportedly asking for the return of $730,000 paid to Pusha T, Desiigner and Tyga.
The lawsuit is also seeking $585,000 from CAA, who represent Fyre headliners Blink-182 in North America, Australia and Mexico. CAA is also reportedly being sued for the fees paid to Claptone, Bedouin (North America) and Lee Burridge (the Americas, Asia, Australia).
CAA, UTA, ICM Partners and Nue Agency are being sued for a collective sum of over $1.75m
The trustee is demanding $350,00 from LA-based ICM Partners for the fees paid to artists Lil Yachty (North America), Migos (North America) and Rae Sremmurd (now CAA), whereas UTA is being asked for the return of $90,000 paid to Skepta (North America).
The same individual has filed lawsuits against models Kendall Jenner and Emily Ratajkowski, for the $275,000 and $300,000 they were paid respectively for promoting the festival on Instagram with a “clear lack of good faith”.
Saddleback Cay, the Bahamian island featuring in much of Fyre Festival’s promotional material, has recently been put up for sale at $11.8m.
The trustee is also seeking to void the transfer of $14.4m from the festival to parent company Fyre Media, of which $11m was allegedly transferred to McFarland.
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Island of Fyre Festival fame up for sale
Saddleback Cay, the Bahamian island that served as the backdrop for the ill-fated Fyre Festival’s infamous promotional material, has been put up for sale at US$11.8 million.
The 35-acre private island is located in the northernmost section of the Exuma Cays, which contains Great Exuma, the actual setting for the festival.
Saddleback Cay appears in opening of a promotional video for the event, which shows Instagram models and influencers partying in the Bahamas.
Fyre Festival – billed as “the adventure of a lifetime” amid the “beautiful turquoise waters and idyllic beaches” of 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.
The fallout from the festival and the demise of its fraudulent organiser, has been closely documented, with streaming service Netflix and Hulu each releasing documentaries about the event.
A GoFundMe page, set up for local caterers who were unpaid by organisers, has so far raised $231,754.
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Online fund raises over $100,000 for unpaid Fyre festival staff
The release of a Netflix documentary investigating the fraudulent Fyre Festival has sparked an online campaign to reimburse unpaid Bahamian workers who lost life savings in the Fyre fiasco.
A GoFundMe page set up by local catering staff who received no payment for their work with the festival has raised US$129,606 in just seven days. Almost 4,000 people have donated to the page which has almost met its $123,000 target.
The owners of a local restaurant that catered for Fyre Festival staff set up the page following the airing of a Netflix documentary on Friday. The film raised awareness for the many Bahamian workers left unpaid by organisers of the disastrous festival.
Maryann Rolle, owner of Exuma Point Restaurant Bar and Grill, explains in an interview for the documentary how she lost $50,000 of her life savings due to the festival’s failings.
“My life was changed forever, and my credit was ruined by Fyre Fest”
“It has been an unforgettable experience catering to the organisers of Fyre Festival. Back in April 2017 I pushed myself to the limit catering no less than a 1,000 meals per day,” writes Rolle on the GoFundMe page.
“As I make this plea it’s hard to believe and embarrassing to admit that I was not paid… I was left in a big hole! My life was changed forever, and my credit was ruined by Fyre Fest.”
The online fundraiser has verified the page, which has received the endorsement of the film’s producers.
Festival organiser and “serial fraudster”, Billy McFarland, received a six year prison sentence and US$26 million fine for his role in the festival, defrauding investors, fans and staff alike.
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Rival documentaries shed light on Fyre Fest debacle
Almost two years on from the failed event, Fyre Festival and its fraudulent organiser are once again at the forefront of the media. Launched this week, Hulu’s Fyre Fraud and Netflix’s Fyre: The Greatest Party that Never Happened investigate what went on behind the scenes of the infamous festival.
Hulu got the drop on its streaming competitor, releasing Fyre Fraud unannounced on Monday. Hulu’s surprise release came the day Netflix lifted its review embargo, linking the two films in search engine results. Netflix had announced in December that its own Fyre documentary would air today.
Further controversy lies at the heart of the depictions of the ill-fated event. The Hulu documentary criticises its Netflix counterpart for an alleged conflict of interest. Netflix’s film, directed by Chris Smith, is produced in part by Jerry Media and Matte Projects, companies that worked with Fyre Festival organisers to promote the original event.
The streaming giant dismissed the criticism: “We were happy to work with Jerry Media and a number of others on the film. At no time did they, or any others we worked with, request favourable coverage in our film, which would be against our ethics.”
In response, the Netflix director questioned the ethics of a decision by the producers of Hulu’s Fyre Fraud to interview disgraced festival organiser Billy McFarland. The objection lies in the significant remuneration McFarland is believed to have received for his screen time.
“At no time did Jerry Media, or any others we worked with, request favourable coverage in our film, which would be against our ethics”
McFarland received a six year prison sentence and a US$26 million fine for his role in the festival, pleading guilty to defrauding investors and running a fraudulent ticketing scam.
Fans paid between $1,500 and $50,000 to attend the festival billed as “the adventure of a lifetime”, to enjoy luxury accommodation, gourmet food and performances from acts such as Blink-182, Major Lazer, Pusha T and Disclosure. Upon arrival, festivalgoers found half-built tents, insufficient food and a dearth of performers.
A US judge placed Fyre Festival into involuntary bankruptcy in August. Last week, the court issued subpoenas to more than a dozen companies, including major talent agencies Creative Artists Agency (CAA) and International Creative Management (ICM) Partners, in a bid to track down the millions of dollars investors lost through the festival.
CAA and ICM Partners received $250,00 in payments from Fyre Festival, whereas talent agencies Windish Agency and AM Only together received $690,000 for representing acts Major Lazer and Disclosure.
The agencies’ lawyers will have two weeks to respond to the subpoenas, once they are served.
Fyre Festival organiser Billy McFarland jailed for six years
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.”
Ja Rule denies liability for Fyre Fest, blames McFarland
A solicitor for rapper Ja Rule, the co-founder of the infamous Fyre Festival, has told a New York judge his client is not liable for damages over the failings of the event, pointing the finger instead at his former business partner, Billy McFarland.
Rosemary Rivas, representing Matthew Herlihy and Anthony Lauriello, two of the festivalgoers suing Ja Rule (real name Jeffrey Atkins), McFarland and their Fyre Media company, noted in a recent court filing that Atkins “denies all substantive allegations […] and further states that the plaintiffs and the purported class failed to demonstrate that defendant, Atkins, committed fraud, made any misrepresentations, attempted to deceive them and/or is otherwise liable under a legal theory of common law or statutory fraud, misrepresentation, or conspiracy to do the same”.
Atkins’s lawyer, Thomas Herndon, yesterday elaborated on the nature of his client’s denials of culpability, telling judge Kevin Castel that McFarland had “hijacked” his vision for the festival.
“My client got wrapped up in this unintentionally. … His ideas got hijacked by McFarland”
“Billy McFarland ran the show,” said Hendon. “My client got wrapped up in this unintentionally.
“His ideas got hijacked by McFarland.”
The organisers of Fyre Festival – which collapsed on its first day, with festivalgoers arriving on the Bahamian island of Grand Exuma to find a half-built festival site and no sign of the luxury accommodation and dining included with their US$1,500–$50,000 tickets – are currently facing numerous lawsuits from disgruntled festivalgoers, and there have been calls recently for the various class actions to be centralised into one mega-suit.
McFarland, who became the public face of the festival, was arrested in July, charged with operating a “scheme to defraud investors” out of almost $1.2m. He was later released on bail, and is believed to be in plea-bargain negotiations with the US government.
Fyre Festival company placed into bankruptcy
Robert Knuts, a lawyer representing three Fyre Festival investors, has said he is looking forward “to finding out where the money went” after successfully forcing the company behind the doomed event into bankruptcy.
New York judge Martin Glenn placed Fyre Festival LLC into chapter-seven bankruptcy, or liquidation, on Tuesday, following pressure from Knuts’s Sher Tremonte law firm, which is aiming to recoup US$530,000 invested in the disastrous Bahamas festival by John Nemeth, Raul Jimenez and Andrew Newman.
As part of the ruling, Glenn has ordered Fyre Festival LLC to prepare documents showing all monies owed by the company.
Though Knuts represents a group of more than 20 investors (who collectively lent the festival some $4 million), theirs is just one of a number of lawsuits targeting Fyre Festival and its organisers, Billy McFarland, Ja Rule and their company Fyre Media.
McFarland, who became the public face of the festival, was arrested in July, charged with operating a “scheme to defraud investors” out of almost $1.2m. He was later released on bail, and is currently in plea-bargain negotiations with the US government.
Fyre Festival promoter Billy McFarland arrested
Billy McFarland, the CEO of the company behind the ill-fated Fyre Festival, is facing up to 20 years in prison following his arrest for allegedly operating a “scheme to defraud investors” out of approximately US$1.2 million.
Fyre Media founder McFarland – who was, along with rapper Ja Rule (Jeffrey Atkins), the public face of the Bahamian festival, which spectacularly collapsed on its first day on 28 April – has been charged with one count of wire fraud by the US district attorney in Manhattan, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years’ jail time.
The criminal complaint against McFarland follows several private lawsuits aimed at recovering lost funds from the doomed event, including from attendees, suppliers and a ticketing company, and McFarland and Atkins’ being banned from the Bahamas, for which the festival was a PR disaster.
Announcing McFarland’s arrest, a statement from the US attorney’s office for the southern district of New York says the accused “perpetrated a scheme to defraud, inducing at least two individuals to invest approximately $1.2m dollars in Fyre Media and an associated entity based on misrepresentations about Fyre Media’s revenue and income. In order to procure these investments, McFarland provided materially false information.
“For example, McFarland told investors that Fyre Media earned millions of dollars of revenue from thousands of artist bookings from at least July 2016 until April 2017. In reality, during that approximate time period, Fyre Media earned less than $60,000 in revenue from approximately 60 artist bookings.”
“McFarland allegedly presented fake documents to induce investors to put over a million dollars into his company and the fiasco called Fyre Festival”
McFarland is also alleged to have falsified financial documents to mislead investors as to the value of his own investments, making it appear as if he could personally guarantee their investment in Fyre Media. “Specifically, McFarland provided an altered brokerage statement that purported to show that he owned shares of a specific stock worth over $2.5 million, when in reality he owned shares of that stock valued at less than $1,500,” the complaint alleges.
William F. Sweeney Jnr, assistant director in charge of the FBI in New York, comments: “Under McFarland’s direction, Fyre Media created a promoter’s marketplace for entertainment bidding. In addition to this initial business venture, McFarland went one step further in establishing a subsidiary of the company, Fyre Festival LLC. But in order to drive the success of both entities, as alleged, McFarland truly put on a show, misrepresenting the financial status of his businesses in order to rake in lucrative investment deals.
“In the end, the very public failure of the Fyre Festival signalled that something just wasn’t right, as we allege in detail today.”
“As alleged, William McFarland promised a ‘life-changing’ music festival but in actuality delivered a disaster,” adds acting Manhattan US attorney Joon Kim. “McFarland allegedly presented fake documents to induce investors to put over a million dollars into his company and the fiasco called the Fyre Festival. Thanks to the investigative efforts of the FBI, McFarland will now have to answer for his crimes.”
McFarland, who reportedly used a public defender – usually reserved for those who can’t afford to pay for legal representation – was released on $300,000 bail on Saturday morning.
Fyre promoters barred from Bahamas as suits mount
While all who attended last month’s disastrous Fyre Festival in the Bahamas have been offered tickets to next year’s event in lieu of refunds, organisers are increasingly looking like they will be forced to find a new home for 2018.
In the run-up the festival – which has since spawned several lawsuits after collapsing on its chaotic first day – promoters promised “the adventure of a lifetime” amid the “beautiful turquoise waters and idyllic beaches” of the island of Grand Exuma.
Billy McFarland, who established the festival with rapper Ja Rule (Jeffrey Atkins), told The New York Times on 28 April the next instalment would be outside the Bahamas, likely “on a beach in the United States”; now, the Bahamian government has reportedly taken steps to ensure that is the case, barring McFarland and Atkins from repeat business on the islands.
TMZ reports the Bahamas’ ministry of tourism has also introduced a “stricter vetting system” for any future festivals on the islands, and will consult with with promoters multiple times during the planning process to avoid a repeat of the debacle.
The Bahamas’ ministry of tourism has introduced a stricter vetting system for any future festivals on the islands
A source tells the gossip site it would have intervened in Fyre Festival sooner but “didn’t have the authority. It was a private event, so the government couldn’t get involved until guests’ safety became an issue.”
Meanwhile, Rolling Stone reports McFarland and Atkins are now the target of a total of six lawsuits. A North Carolinan couple, Kenneth and Emily Reel, are seeking US$5 million for fraud, misrepresentation and deceptive trade practices, while contractor National Event Services has sued for $250,000 in damages on behalf of its employees on site.
NES staff found “uninhabitable” accommodation, “bloodstained mattresses and no air conditioning”, the complaint alleges, and NES had nowhere to send any patient who may have required emergency care overnight” as the medical centre was closed. The suit also accuses McFarland and Atkins of “falsely misrepresented critical facts” about the festival, including the “capitalisation necessary” to stage the event.
Lawyers seek big wins over Fyre Festival woes
With Fyre Festival, the “adventure of a lifetime” that descended into what one attendee called “Rich Kids of Instagram meets Lord of Flies” – set to go down in history as a cautionary tale of how not to organise a music festival, lawyers for both festival and attendees are circling ahead of what is expected to be a protracted legal battle to establish culpability for the disaster.
As reported on Thursday, Fyre Festival, the brainchild of rapper Ja Rule and tech entrepreneur Billy McFarland, descended into chaos on its first (and, as it transpired, only) day, with festivalgoers arriving on the Bahamian island of Grand Exuma to find a half-built festival site and no sign of the luxury accommodation and dining included with their US$1,500–$50,000 tickets.
McFarland and Ja Rule (real name Jeffrey Atkins) have since offered refunds to all guests – or free tickets to Fyre Festival 2018 (!) – and apologised to guests, staff and the government of the Bahamas for the “unacceptable guest experience” – although Atkins has since claimed the debacle was “NOT MY FAULT” (caps his).
The most concrete legal challenge against Atkins, McFarland and their Fyre Media company comes in the form of a class-action lawsuit by attendee Daniel Jung, who is seeking damages “in excess” of US$100 million of behalf of himself and a “class of similarly situated persons” for alleged fraud, negligent misrepresentation, breach of contract and breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing.
Filed by Los Angeles-based Geragos & Geragos, the complaint alleges that “defendants [Fyre] had been aware for months that their festival was dangerously under-equipped and posed a serious danger to anyone in attendance. Individuals employed by defendants have since acknowledged that no infrastructure for food service or accommodations was in place as recently as last month – the island was totally barren – and that the few contractors who had been retained by defendants were refusing to work because they had not been paid.
“This class action will make sure to hold Fyre, and all those who recklessly and blindly promoted the festival, accountable”
“At the same time, however, defendants were knowingly lying about the festival’s accommodations and safety and continued to promote the event and sell ticket packages.”
The law firm also takes issue with the festival’s claim that the festival was to take place on a private island once owned by drug kingpin Pablo Escobar – namely the fact that nothing about it is even remotely true. “The island isn’t private, as there is a Sandals resort down the road,” writes Geragos & Geragos principal Mark Geragos, “and Pablo Escobar never owned the island.”
According to Geragos, both Atkins and McFarland had contacted several performers and celebrity guests in advance of the festival warning them not to attend, “acknowledging the fact that the festival was outrageously under-equipped and potentially dangerous for anyone in attendance”, and yet “only ‘cancelled’ the event on the morning of the first day – after thousands of attendees had already arrived and were stranded, without food, water or shelter.
“This outrageous failure to prepare, coupled with defendants’ deliberate falsehoods in promoting the island ‘experience’, demonstrates that the Fyre Festival was nothing more than a get-rich-quick scam from the very beginning. Defendants intended to fleece attendees for hundreds of millions of dollars by inducing them to fly to a remote island without food, shelter or water – and without regard to what might happen to them after that.”
While the complaint acknowledges that Fyre has offered refunds, it concludes that luring festivalgoers to “a deserted island and [leaving them] to fend for themselves” is “tantamount to false imprisonment”, so damages must exceed the face value of their ticket packages by many orders of magnitude”.
The complaint is unusual in that it incorporates screenshots from social-media sites such as Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, with photos of staff allegedly mishandling luggage, the ‘disaster relief’ tents that housed stranded guests,”wild animals” (cute swimming pigs) in the festival site and the now-famous sad cheese sandwich included as evidence.
“The infrastructure on Great Exuma is second to none. … We in the ministry are so disappointed that there have been false claims surrounding the island”
With said posting by Fyre Festival guests on social media – especially by prolific tweeters such as Seth Crossno (@WNFIV) and @FyreFraud – key to informing the world’s media about conditions on the island, Fyre Media’s lawyers reportedly hit back with a suit of their own, accusing those of live-tweeting the unfolding chaos on Grand Exuma of inciting “violence, rioting or civil unrest”.
According to TMZ, at least one festivalgoer – who claimed that the only accommodation on the island was disaster-relief tents on the verge of blowing over – received a cease-and-desist letter from Fyre warning that “if someone innocent does get hurt as a result [of your postings], Fyre Festival will hold you accountable and responsible.”
As predicted by IQ last week, the social media celebrities paid by Fyre to promote the festival – dubbed ‘Fyre Starters’ – have also found themselves in legal hot water. Geragos & Geragos’s Ben Meiselas told The Fashion Law the suit will “make sure to hold Fyre – and all those who recklessly and blindly promoted the festival – accountable” to ticket-holders (emphasis ours).
Although not explicitly named in the lawsuit, a leaked pitch document reveals Instagram ‘influencers’ such as Kendall Jenner, Bella Hadid, Emily Ratajkowski, Chanel Iman, and Hailey Baldwin were recruited as part of a “coordinated influencer marketing campaign” to promote the festival. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) requires all those endorsing products on social media to disclose if their posts are paid advertisements.
A second class-action suit, filed yesterday in the Los Angeles County Superior Court, goes one step further, mentioning directly the “social media ‘influencers’ [who] made no attempt to disclose to consumers that they were being compensated for promoting the Fyre Festival”, reports THR.
“Social media ‘influencers’ made no attempt to disclose to consumers that they were being compensated for promoting the Fyre Festival”
Representing three attendees, Chelsea Chinery, Shannon McAuliffe and Desiree Flores, as well as the ‘class’ of people who bought tickets for or attended Fyre Festival, attorney John Girardi is seeking damages and an injunction to bar Atkins, McFarland and Fyre Media from “similar conduct”, throwing further into disarray plans to hold a second Fyre Festival in the US next year.
Short of suing festivalgoers for libel, the threat of any further legal action from Fyre Media’s side has likely passed (being that the festival is now over and all attendees evacuated, eliminating the threat of anyone being hurt).
There are, however, already signs of more lawsuits heading its way. The Bahamas’ Ministry of Tourism is estimated to have lost millions from Fyre Festival’s cancellation, and in a statement contested the festival’s claims that a “city” had to be “built from the ground up”, saying the “infrastructure on Great Exuma is second to none. The island has potable water, water and sewerage, internet and cable television services, an electricity plant, a waste management system, a mini hospital, police officers, a local government and border patrol officers.”
The ministry’s director-general, Joy Jibrilu, says she felt compelled to defend the island “amid reports from the organisers that it lacked the necessary infrastructure to host the Fyre Festival”.
One enterprising Florida lawyer, meanwhile, has already registered the domain fyrefestivallawsuit.com. Injury attorney Philip DeBerard says he is “investigating legal action to help victims get proper compensation for their tickets, airfare and other damages”, imploring ticket-holders to come forward to “explore your options to hold Fyre Festival, Ja Rule and others accountable and get full, fair and just compensation for your damages.”
In a nutshell: don’t expect this story to go anywhere any time soon.