The entrepreneur behind a luxury music festival in the Bahamas that collapsed in chaos in 2017 was sentenced to six years in prison by a US judge on Thursday after admitting fraud.
Billy McFarland, 26, was the force behind the Fyre Festival, which billed itself as the ultimate upscale getaway amid a fast-growing market for music events.
Hundreds of partygoers headed to the Bahamas, some paying more than $100,000 each, but instead found tents that wouldn’t have looked out of place in relief camps and cuisine that was just rudimentary sandwiches.
"Today, McFarland found out the hard way that empty promises don’t lead to jet-setting, champagne and extravagant parties – they lead to federal prison," said US Attorney for Manhattan, Geoffrey Berman.
The New Yorker admitted wire fraud, bank fraud and making false statements in a two-pronged plea in March and July. Had he gone to trial and been convicted, he could have faced 20 years in prison.
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In addition to his jail time, he was ordered to forfeit $26 million.
Prosecutors said McFarland repeatedly misrepresented himself to build his Fyre Media tech company and the ill-fated festival.
He falsified statements to show investors that his company earned millions of dollars from April 2016 and February 2017 through talent bookings, which in reality has grossed just $57,443, prosecutors said.
The US Attorney’s office said that at least 80 investors fell victim to his scheme, losing more than $24 million.
McFarland also falsely boasted about Magnises, a credit card and private club geared at millennials, prosecutors said.
He told investors that he sold Magnises for $40 million while in truth no sale had taken place, they said.
In the first damages awarded, a judge in North Carolina earlier this year handed two fans each $1.5 million in compensation, plus $1 million each in punitive damages, far more than the minimum sought.
Seth Crossno and Mark Thompson said that they shelled out $13,000 with a promise of exclusive accommodation on a private island but instead wound up in a relief camp-style tent and left when they felt unsafe.
Numerous festival-goers posted pictures on social media of shambolic scenes, leading to online mockery of the high prices many had paid.
The dinner that @fyrefestival promised us was catered by Steven Starr is literally bread, cheese, and salad with dressing. #fyrefestival pic.twitter.com/I8d0UlSNbd
— Tr3vor (@trev4president) April 28, 2017
The Fyre Festival was abruptly canceled and attendees evacuated, leading to online mockery of many of the young fans who had bought into the advertising of the event as a uniquely high-end music party.
The government of the Bahamas, a country of more than 700 islands where tourism is the largest industry, apologized and assisted in evacuations – but stressed it was not involved directly in the event.