One of 2017’s strangest stories–even in a year of strangeness on all fronts–was the epic failure of Fyre Festival, the upper-crust Bahamian destination festival organized by rapper Ja Rule and his 25-year-old entrepreneurial partner Billy McFarland. The now-legendary shit-show of colossal proportions 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.
On Tuesday, McFarland pleaded guilty to misleading investors and wire fraud in a Manhattan federal court. As CNBC reports, McFarland, who owns Fyre Media, the company behind Fyre Festival, said that he accepted full responsibility for various serious missteps and admitted that he engaged in “fraudulent behavior.” In the hearing, he apologized to his company, his family, and his investors, and expressed regret at his actions. He agreed to forfeit more than $26 million.
As U.S. attorney Geoffrey Berman said after the hearing, “As he admitted today, William McFarland tendered fake documents to induce investors and a ticket vendor to put more than $26 million into his company and the disastrous Fyre Festival. He now awaits sentencing for his admitted swindle.” Each of McFarland’s two wire fraud charges carries a maximum prison sentence of 20 years, though the judge will make the final decision regarding the sentence administered.
As CNBC explains:
The first count [of wire fraud] alleged that falsely represented his company’s financial well-being in order to secure investments for Fyre Media. … The Fyre Media CEO provided falsified documents that claimed millions in income earned from talent bookings. But in reality, the company only earned $57,443 for that period. McFarland also presented documents claiming more than 2,500 confirmed talent bookings in one month, when only 60 were confirmed in an entire year. … The U.S. attorney’s office said these misrepresentations created losses for at least 80 investors, totaling more than $24 million.
The second count alleged that McFarland provided false income statements to a ticket vendor in order to get $2 million for a block of advance tickets to future festivals. Based off those misstatements, the vendor entered into an agreement with McFarland and Fyre which unconditionally guaranteed $2.4 million from the sales of those pre-purchased tickets.
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 on Tuesday, 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 canceling 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.
McFarland’s sentencing is set for June 21st.
Watch Fyre Festival’s flashy announcement video below:
Fyre Festival Announcement Video
[Video: Fyre Festival]