The bizarre saga of Fyre Festival continued to get even stranger on Friday. In a session with the Manhattan judge preparing to sentence fraudulent young “founder” Billy McFarland, lawyers asked for leniency, claiming that McFarland suffered from mental illness when he orchestrated the historic shit-show.
According to Billboard, defense attorney Randall Jackson cited a psychological report saying McFarland suffers from Bipolar Related Disorder and may sometimes have “delusional beliefs of having special and unique talents that will lead to fame and fortune.”
While Jackson’s description no-doubt fits McFarland’s profile, the move feels like the legal equivalent of a late-game hail mary pass. McFarland and Ja Rule‘s Fyre Festival promised an upper-crust private island lap of luxury but promptly imploded and devolved into a virtual refugee situation just hours after the event began. McFarland and his company, Fyre Media, were quickly hit with a barrage of legal action, including a $100M class action suit filed by Fyre Festival attendees and various criminal charges brought on behalf of investors.
You may be asking yourself, with conditions as they were, how did McFarland and his team allow the event to go on at all? As he admitted in court in March, he had “grossly underestimated” the resources and infrastructure needed to produce an event of Fyre Festival’s initially alleged scale–and “grossly underestimated” sounds like a gross underestimation of the extent of the event organizers’ cluelessness.
According to one person on the organizing team in an early interview with NY Mag, the actual, practical situation seemed utterly lost on those in charge. During a pre-event site visit, Ja Rule reportedly made a toast to the organizing team about the coming celebration: “To living like movie stars, partying like rock stars, and fucking like porn stars.” At a last-minute meeting with staff to discuss potentially cancelling the festival before it started, one unnamed exec brushed off the serious concerns of the staff with the same hubris and delusions of grandeur that marred the entire operation: “Let’s just do it and be legends, man.” Yeah… Can’t make this shit up.
In March, McFarland pleaded guilty to misleading investors, agreeing to forfeit more than $26M. He also amassed several new fraud charges pertaining to yet another scheme in which he sold fake tickets to major events including Coachella, Super Bowl LII, and the MET Gala. According to prosecutors, McFarland scammed 30 people out of at least $150,000 and also attempted to pay an employee with a $25,000 fraudulent check.
The combination of the charges against him amount to a sentence of up to 115 years in prison, although he was only expected to only receive 10–14 years at his sentencing next month prior to Friday’s new development. It’s unclear whether it will make a difference in the judge’s decision.
Who knows whether or not Billy McFarland really suffers from a mental illness that led to his “delusional beliefs of having special and unique talents that will lead to fame and fortune?” From the outside looking in, it’s been pretty clear to everyone in the world for some time that this guy has a couple screws loose. Maybe he doesn’t deserve to spend his life in jail, and it’s likely he won’t. But playing that card this far into the game seems many days late and millions of dollars short.