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Fyre Festival fraudster Billy McFarland requests early prison release over COVID-19 concerns

By | Published on Thursday 16 April 2020

Billy McFarland

Fyre Festival founder Billy McFarland, who is currently serving a six year prison sentence for fraud, has asked to be allowed to serve the remainder of his jail term under house arrest. Like many other prisoners seeking early release at the moment, he cites concerns over COVID-19.

In a motion filed this week, reports TMZ, McFarland’s attorneys list a number of reasons why their client should be granted “compassionate release”. These include various underlying health conditions which, it’s claimed, put him at a high risk of death if he contracts COVID-19. The filing states that he had asthma as a teenager, and has severe allergies and “heart issues”.

It adds that, in the prison where he is currently being held, Elkton in Ohio, official figures state that 36 prisoners and 26 members of staff have already tested positive for COVID-19, and four prisoners have died as a result of the disease.

In a letter to the judge who sentenced him, McFarland insists that he is a changed man who has learned the error of his ways. He admits that he has made mistakes since his arrest on fraud charges, not least violating bail by committing further fraud. Although he insists: “I was mentally fighting back, thinking that while I was totally wrong in my actions, my intentions were good”.

Nine months into his prison sentence, in July last year, he was placed in solitary confinement after being discovered with a USB hard drive – a breach of prison rules. It was this incident, he now says, that caused him to turn his life around and realise that “the true punishment is not going to jail ourselves, but that we impart our sentence on the innocent ones we love”.

The filing cites the recent release of rapper Tekashi 6ix9ine, who has been allowed to serve the remainder of his (much shorter) sentence under house arrest.

His circumstances are somewhat different though. He was being held in New York, which is the American city worst hit by the COVID-19 crisis, and has asthma so severe that it has seen him hospitalised a number of times, leaving him genuinely at risk of death if he contracts the disease. Prior to his release, he was already expected to be freed in August.

McFarland had been facing up to 40 years in prison in relation to the fraud he committed via the companies that ran the failed Fyre Festival and related ventures. However, he received a reduced sentence as part of a plea deal.

That was reduced further when he was allowed to serve sentences on all charges concurrently. He was, as a result, given six years in prison, followed by three years of supervised release, and ordered to return $26 million to those he defrauded.

Sentencing, judge Naomi Reice Buchwald said in October 2018: “It is my conclusion based on all the submissions that the defendant is a serial fraudster and that to date his fraud, like a circle, has no ending”.

She added that he had “been dishonest most of his life” and was “unique in this court’s memory” as someone who had committed further crimes while out on bail.

It remains to be seen how that view affects her decision now on whether or not to grant McFarland’s request for early release from prison.