Billy McFarland, the promoter of the failed Fyre Festival in the Bahamas, pleaded guilty to two counts of wire fraud charges Tuesday, agreeing to serve up to a decade in prison for lying to investors and sending false documents.
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 apologize to my investors, team, family and supporters who I let down,” McFarland told U.S. District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald in Manhattan.
McFarland said that he intended to organize “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.”
Fyre Festival, organized by rapper Ja Rule and entrepreneur McFarland, had promised “a cultural moment created from a blend of music, art, and food.” Tickets ranged between US$1,000 and US$12,000 — with some VIP packages as high as US$250,000 — with amenities including private plane and boat rentals, massages, and local beach tours.
Attendees complained about disorganization and accommodations in social media posts.
The event on the Bahamian island of Exuma was supposed to take place over two weekends last April and May. It was promoted on social media by Kendall Jenner, Bella Hadid, Emily Ratajkowski and other models and celebrities coaxing people into buying the pricey ticket packages.
People complained of spending thousands of dollars on tickets and travel to the Exuma islands in the Bahamas for what were supposed to be performances by Blink-182, Pusha-T, Migos, Disclosure and Major Lazer.
Their luxury accommodations 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.”
McFarland 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 comment outside court.
McFarland has been free on US$300,000 bail since his June arrest. Sentencing was set for June 21. Besides prison time, McFarland also faces over a dozen civil lawsuits from investors and ticket buyers, who are still attempting to reclaim their losses.
—With files from the Associated Press