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Billy McFarland pleads guilty to Fyre Festival fraud, facing 40 years but hoping for ten

By | Published on Wednesday 7 March 2018

Fyre Festival

Fyre Festival founder Billy McFarland has pleaded guilty to fraud charges, relating to the funding of the disastrous event and its associated businesses. He changed his plea as part of a deal struck with prosecutors, hoping to serve significantly less time in prison than the 40 years he is potentially facing.

McFarland faces two charges of wire fraud, both of which carry maximum sentences of 20 years. His lawyers and prosecutors have now reached a plea deal, in which it was recommended yesterday that he serve between eight and ten years. However, the court is under no obligation to follow the prosecution’s recommendation.

Arrested in June last year, McFarland is charged with defrauding both investors and vendors before the collapse of the Fyre Festival in the Bahamas in April. He entered a not guilty plea in October, at which time it was indicated that the two sides were still attempting to reach a plea deal.

Now acknowledging that he had indeed engaged in fraud, he told the judge yesterday: “I deeply regret my actions, and I apologise to my investors, team, family and supporters who I let down”. He added that he now accepts “full responsibility for several serious mistakes” made in the run up to Fyre Festival.

“While my intention and effort was directed to organising a legitimate festival, I grossly underestimated the resources that would be necessary to hold an event of this magnitude”, he went on. “In an attempt to raise what I thought were needed funds, I lied to investors about various aspects of Fyre Media and my personal finances. Those lies included false documents and information”.

Fyre Festival, of course, was the music event due to take place on an island in the Bahamas in April and May last year. Marketed as a super luxurious experience, the festival collapsed just as people were arriving, as it became clear management hadn’t put in place the infrastructure for even a basic event, let alone the luxury set-up that had been promised.

Prosecutors say that McFarland took over $26 million from 80 investors. He also provided false information to a ticketing company, convincing it to hand over $2 million for a block of advance tickets for future editions of the event. That deal was done just days before the first edition of the doomed festival was due to take place.

In terms of what happened to that money, documents obtained by the New York Post show that McFarland spent $160,000 on hiring a yacht for headliners Blink 182 and $260,000 for carpet to be placed in tents.

When punters arrived they found that there was no running water on site, which was probably more important that the carpet. Blink 182 also never got to use the yacht. The band drew early attention to the festival’s collapse by pulling out shortly before it was due to begin.

The festival was co-founded by McFarland and rapper Ja Rule, who were also collaborating on a talent-booking app under the Fyre brand, which the abandoned island adventure was designed to promote. Since the event’s collapse, the Fyre companies and their founders have been on the receiving end of a stack of lawsuits from disgruntled ticket-buyers, suppliers and investors, in addition to McFarland’s fraud charges.

Currently free on bail, McFarland is due to be sentenced on 21 Jun.