Fyre Festival organizer Billy McFarland, who pleaded guilty earlier this year to wire fraud after the failed music festival in 2017 in the Bahamas, has been sentenced to six years in prison, according to reports.
McFarland was accused of defrauding investors in his company, Fyre Media, and in the music festival, which was reportedly billed as the next Coachella.
But as The Washington Post’s Abby Ohlheiser previously reported, when concertgoers showed up at the site in April 2017, they found tents still in boxes, less-than-luxurious meal options and an empty stage.
“The remorse I feel is crushing,” McFarland said Thursday in court, according to Vice News. “I lived every day with the weight of knowing that I literally destroyed the lives of my friends and family.”
During his sentencing hearing Thursday, McFarland, repeatedly apologized, asking the court to show leniency — a request that his counsel had also made earlier this month, arguing that McFarland had been recently diagnosed with untreated bipolar disorder, according to Vice News. The 26-year-old told the court Thursday that “the best way to be sorry is through my future actions,” according to Vice News.
U.S. District Judge Naomi Buchwald told McFarland that “bipolar does not excuse behavior.” She sentenced him to six years behind bars and ordered him to hand over $26,182,386, Vice said. Buchwald could have sentenced McFarland to up to 20 years in prison.
Following the sentencing, McFarland's attorney, Randall Jackson, said in a statement to The Post that he and his client are "appreciative of the careful consideration taken by the court."
“We’re grateful that the court rejected the draconian sentence requested by the government,” he added, "and imposed a sentence that will allow Billy to spend the second part of his life meaningfully giving back to his community.”
McFarland had promoted the Fyre Festival as “MORE THAN JUST A MUSIC FESTIVAL,” promising not only live music but also luxurious accommodations, gourmet meals and mingling with celebrities on a private island in the Bahamas. In exchange, festivalgoers paid anywhere from $450 to $250,000 to attend.
Expectations were high.
Instead, the festival collapsed in spectacular, public fashion. When attendees arrived in the Exumas, a group of islands that are part of the Bahamas, they discovered that the luxury accommodations were disaster-relief tents on the beach, some still not set up. Cheese sandwiches made up the “gourmet meals,” and festival organizers seemed to be equally in the dark, sometimes literally, about what was supposed to happen. Blink-182, one of the festival’s headliners, had pulled out at the last minute.
On social media, the collapse of the “elite” festival was unfurled live for all to see under #fyrefestival, #dumpsterfyre and other unprintable hashtags.
In April 2017, McFarland and his Fyre Festival co-founder, the rapper Ja Rule, had defended their intentions amid accusations that they had set out to defraud people.
“We were a little naive in thinking for the first time we could do this ourselves,” McFarland told Rolling Stone then. “Next year, we will definitely start earlier. The reality is, we weren’t experienced enough to keep up.”
However, the U.S. attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York said in a complaint that McFarland deliberately orchestrated a scheme to defraud investors, including at least two people who had invested about $1.2 million in Fyre Media. Prosecutors said McFarland told investors that “Fyre Media earned millions of dollars of revenue from thousands of artist bookings” when, in reality, it had “earned less than $60,000 in revenue from approximately 60 artist bookings,” according to a statement from the U.S. attorney’s office.
Prosecutors also said that, with at least one investor, McFarland backed up his claims to vast sums of money with a doctored brokerage statement that made it appear as though he owned shares of a stock worth more than $2.5 million.
In reality, the shares he owned in that stock were valued at less than $1,500, according to the complaint.