“Let’s just do it and be legends, man,” a marketing exec for the doomed Fyre Festival reportedly said when it became clear the event was going to be a disaster. And now the lead organizer of that legendarily terrible music festival might be a legend in the clink. Billy McFarland has been charged with wire fraud and faces up to 20 years in prison.
Acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York Joon H. Kim announced the charges against McFarland on Friday. He said that McFarland’s company Fyre Media stands accused of defrauding investors by repeatedly overstating financial information. “McFarland allegedly presented fake documents to induce investors to put over a million dollars into his company and the fiasco called the Fyre Festival,” Kim said in a statement.
In April, Fyre Festival made international headlines when images of the pathetic conditions on an island in the Bahamas appeared on social media. The festival was advertised as a high end, exclusive event with tickets going for as much as $400,000. Attendees arrived to find cheese sandwiches and wilted salads instead of the gourmet grub they were promised. Luxury tents had not been set up and the bands that were scheduled had canceled. The US embassy had to get involved with evacuations of the concertgoers. As the FBI’s William F. Sweeney Jr. put it on Friday, “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 signaled that something just wasn’t right.”
According to the New York Times:
... at least two people invested about $1.2 million in the two companies, and in communications with these investors in 2016 and 2017, Mr. McFarland repeatedly overstated Fyre Media’s revenue from bookings and his own wealth.
He said Fyre Media had earned millions of dollars from thousands of bookings this year and last. But in reality, the complaint said, his company had taken in only $57,443.
And in one communication with an investor, Mr. McFarland supplied a Scottrade statement that he had altered to inflate his ownership of a particular company’s stock. According to the complaint, the fake document showed that Mr. McFarland owned $2.5 million in shares, when in reality his position was worth $1,500.
Notably, McFarland’s partner in the event, rapper Ja Rule, was not charged with any crimes. From the beginning, it has appeared that Ja Rule was mostly guilty of paying zero attention to what was going on at the festival. Other “famous influencers” like Kendall Jenner and Bella Hadid were paid to promote the festival through their social media followings—public apologies followed.
But Ja Rule isn’t completely out of the woods yet. Assuming that no criminal charges are to come, he’s still involved in over a dozen lawsuits filed against the organizers.