The attorney for Billy McFarland—the 26-year-old Fyre Festival cofounder who has pleaded guilty to fraud in connection with the failed fest, and who also pleaded guilty to a fake ticket scam he was running while he was awaiting sentencing for the Fyre Fest scam—now claims that his client's love for scams is due to an undiagnosed mental illness.
Buzzfeed reports that attorney Randall Jackson asked the judge for leniency in McFarland's upcoming sentencing, citing two psychiatrists' reports that found that his client has been diagnosed with some type of mood disorder, "bipolar related disorder," ADHD, and alcohol abuse, which altered his behavior and resulted in "delusional beliefs of having special and unique talents that will lead to fame and fortune."
McFarland pleaded guilty earlier this year to defrauding investors and vendors out of $26 million in connection with the disastrous Fyre Fest, which became synonymous with scams. While out on bail, he was charged again for the fake ticket scam, admitting that his ticket company, NYC VIP Access, was selling fake tickets to events like Coachella, Burning Man, the Super Bowl, dinner with LeBron James, and the Met Gala (and that he took great pains to shield his connection to the company).
"Nothing in this case speaks to any malicious intent on his part, just a sea of bad judgment, poor decisions, and the type of core instability that can only be explained by mental illness," Jackson wrote. According to two psychological reports, McFarland was experiencing "mania or hypomania," had trouble sleeping, was exhausted and overwrought, and thus "had a diminished capacity to foresee the consequences of his actions... The combination of ADHD and hypomania resulted in his pattern of undertaking on multiple projects accompanied by unrealistic appraisals of success."
Documentarian Jenner Furst, who co-directed an upcoming Hulu series about Fyre Festival and its fallout, has a slightly different view of McFarland's psychology. Furst spent many hours interviewing McFarland for the series, and told Gothamist he saw McFarland's story as that of a morality tale about how the instant gratification culture of the Internet corrodes morality:
But I think on a bigger level, you have a generation that has grown up with this concept of instant gratification and they go out and they use social media to create this absolutely explosive phenomenon. It's one of the most successful social media advertising campaigns in recent history. It went completely viral. And at the time that it went completely viral, that trailer and the orange boxes that were on everybody's social media feeds with all the influencers getting them out there—they had basically nothing in place. And so the thing becomes a success on the Internet. But there's no real structure in place on the island that could support all of these ticket sales.
And I think that in our interview with Billy, what's most interesting is that you have a young man who has been incredibly successful at what he was trying to do, which was be an entrepreneur and be a technological savant. He's programming in middle school, he's selling two companies on the internet before he gets to college. The kid goes to Bucknell with a huge degree of financial freedom because he had sold two companies completely on his own. So all of these type of facts you learn in our documentary, you learn through that eight hour interview, that he really had had nothing but success to that point. I think he didn't know how to hear the answer "no."
I think that that's a common thing in our generation, this instant gratification and this virtual world that people are living [in] through social media. The tangible, the physical, the things that people work very hard for like construction and planning and adequate resources and infrastructure and water and electricity—those things you can't just click through. Those things actually take time to build.
And I think you had a perfect storm, for lack of a better metaphor, and all of this stuff collided and there was certainly criminal intent with some of the aspects of what happened with Fyre Festival. But somewhere—even if it was just vanity, even if it was just delusion—somewhere, the people involved wanted to have a music festival. They just didn't have the tools, or the sense of reality, or really the ethics that would have allowed them to carry that off.
For what it's worth, there's one person in the universe who still thinks Fyre Fest was a great idea: co-founder Ja Rule. He spoke about the festival on Revolt TV last week: "I’m not ashamed of Fyre at all. Because man, the idea, it was brilliant. It was fuckin’ beyond brilliant. The festival idea, everything, it was amazing," he said. The problem was the execution: "It wasn’t what I dreamed it of being and what I envisioned of it being and what I wanted it to be," he said. "It wasn’t done properly."
"It was my idea, my vision to do this," he continued. "And I’m no way, shape or form ashamed of my vision of what it was to do this. I wanted to create something amazing...I should’ve been more on top of things. I should’ve not trusted people with certain things. And I’m positive things wouldn’t have been like that. That part of it, I take all responsibility."