Promoter of failed Fyre Festival, who promised supermodels but delivered cheese sandwiches, pleads guilty to fraud

Billy McFarland faces up to 10 years in prison after admitting he lied to investors about the event and his finances

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 07 March, 2018, 10:40am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 07 March, 2018, 8:08pm

The promoter of the failed Fyre Festival in the Bahamas – once billed as the “cultural experience of the decade” – pleaded guilty to wire fraud charges Tuesday, agreeing to serve up to a decade in prison for lying to investors and sending false documents.

Billy McFarland, 26, entered the plea in Manhattan federal court in a deal with prosecutors that suggested he serve between eight and 10 years in prison.

“I deeply regret my actions, and I apologise to my investors, team, family and supporters who I let down,” a chastened McFarland told US District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald in Manhattan.

He said he planned to organise “a legitimate festival” when he planned the Fyre Festival as an outgrowth of a digital application he launched in May 2016 to help concert promoters and private individuals directly book musicians for concerts.

“I grossly underestimated the resources that would be necessary to hold an event of this magnitude,” he said. “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.”

The festival was promoted as “the cultural experience of the decade,” an ultra-luxurious event on the Bahamian island of Exuma over two weekends last April and May. It was promoted on social media by supermodels Kendall Jenner and Bella Hadid (neither of whom attended) and other celebrities, coaxing people into buying ticket packages ranging from US$1,200 to over US$100,000.

Customers hoping to see Blink-182 and the hip hop act Migos arrived to learn music acts were cancelled. Their luxury accommodation and gourmet food consisted of leaky white tents and cheese sandwiches. Customers lashed out on social media with the hashtag #fyrefraud.

A lawsuit filed in Los Angeles called the festival “nothing more than a get-rich-quick scam.” It said the festival’s inadequate food, water, shelter and medical care left attendees stranded on a remote island in a “dangerous and panicked situation.”

As part of his plea, McFarland also admitted raising money for the festival by giving a ticket vendor false information about Fyre Media’s financial condition last April to induce the vendor to pay US$2 million for a block of advance tickets.

McFarland and his attorney, Randall Jackson, declined to comment outside court.

McFarland has been free on US$300,000 bail since his June arrest. Sentencing was set for June 21.