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Billy McFarland ponders how to pay back defrauded Fyre Festival investors

By | Published on Friday 16 September 2022

Billy McFarland

Billy McFarland is back. Now out of prison, the Fyre Festival founder is making plans to raise the $26 million he is supposed to be paying back to the investors he defrauded when putting that infamous doomed event together.

“I’d like to do something tech-based”, he says in an interview with the New York Times. “The good thing with tech is that people are so forward-thinking, and they’re more apt at taking risk. If I worked in finance, I think it would be harder to get [the money] back. Tech is more open. And the way I failed is totally wrong, but in a certain sense, failure is OK in entrepreneurship”.

“At the end of the day, I think I could probably create the most value by building some sort of tech product”, he goes on. “Whether that’s within a company or by starting my own company, I’m open to both. I’ll probably decide in the next couple of weeks which path to go down”.

One potential issue – in terms of him setting up his own business – is that as part of his sentencing McFarland is barred from becoming the director of a company. But I guess he’ll just need to find someone else to be formally designated director.

The Fyre Festival chief was sentenced to six years in prison back in 2018 after being found guilty of defrauding investors in his Fyre business. He was recently released early, although was initially residing in a so called halfway house.

He now seems pretty keen to make good on his past bad conduct. Although, $26 million is rather a lot of money to pay back. And previous efforts to raise some cash have not gone well. In October 2020, while still in jail, he launched a podcast called Dumpster Fyre, which promised to tell the Fyre Festival story “from all sides” – including his own.

He said that he hoped to use money made from the podcast to repay some of his fraud debts. However, the podcast quickly died a death, after prison officials took a dim view of the project – which saw him recording interviews over the phone – and placed him in solitary confinement.

That wasn’t McFarland’s first stint in solitary as a result of efforts to make money off the back of Fyre Festival. He had planned to write a memoir while in prison, but ended up confined alone for three months after he was found to have smuggled a USB drive into jail on which he was saving notes for the book.

Asked by the NYT if he still planned to write said book, he said that he had now abandoned the idea, in part because it was unlikely to make enough money. “The book’s not going to pay the restitution, let me put it that way”, he says.

It remains to be seen what McFarland’s next move will be – and whether he manages to do something that doesn’t land him back in prison. Although he reckons he’s finally definitely learned his lesson now – you know, after he was discovered to have set up another fraudulent ticketing scheme while on probation ahead of his original court case.

“I probably added years on to my sentence by doing that”, he admits. “I just was making bad decision after bad decision”.

As for why he defrauded investors in Fyre Festival in the first place, he says: “I think I was scared. And the fear was letting down people who believed in me – showing them they weren’t right”.