Billy McFarland, the founder of the spectacularly disastrous Fyre Festival, which ended before it began, was living in a $21,000/month penthouse apartment when federal agents arrested him for wire fraud on Friday. Now, after being released on $300,000 bail, McFarland will be moving back home with his parents in New Jersey. The feds said that McFarland had $5,000 in cash on him when he was arrested.
Acting U.S. Attorney Joon Kim accuses McFarland, 25, of duping investors into committing money in Fyre Media, which in 2016 was developing an app that would allow event organizers to bid for musical acts. McFarland then created an experiential offshoot called Fyre Festival, to drive more buzz around the business, with acts like Blink-182 and Migos booked to perform in the Bahamas, where attendees would stay in luxury accommodations. Instead, festival goers found portapotties and disaster relief tents while stranded without luggage; musical acts had dropped out, due to lack of organizers' preparation.
— Matt Halfhill (@MattHalfhill) April 28, 2017
Fyre Media allegedly blew money from the ticket sales—which went up to $12,000 a pop—on models, yachts and planes. In the criminal complaint, the feds allege, "McFarland provided materially false information.... [telling] investors that Fyre Media earned millions of dollars of revenue from thousands of artist bookings from at least July 2016 until April 2017. In reality, during that approximate time period, Fyre Media earned less than $60,000 in revenue from approximately 60 artist bookings."
The U.S. Attorney's office also said their investigation found that McFarland doctored documents to claim he had $2.5 million in stock holdings when he only actually had $1,500.
In court on Saturday, McFarland appeared with a public defender, Sabrina Shroff. According to the NY Times, "At the hearing, Ms. Shroff said Mr. McFarland’s previous lawyers had not been paid enough to continue to represent him. Public defenders are reserved for defendants with limited assets, and the government will often challenge whether those who apply for them really qualify, as they did in the case of Joaquín Guzmán Loera, the Mexican drug lord known as El Chapo who is currently incarcerated in New York."
Federal prosecutor Kristy Greenberg told Judge Kevin N. Fox asked for a higher bail of $500,000 bail, and noted that McFarland's dealings led to "industrial losses of tens of millions of dollars." She added that it's "clear that he did not understand the gravity and the severity of the charges until now. He is now forced to face reality." From Page Six:
Two months before the doomed Fyre Festival was supposed to go off on the Bahamian island of Great Exuma, McFarland moved into a $21,750 penthouse, Greenberg said. “Clearly there’s money somewhere,” she remarked.
Shroff said McFarland is no flight risk, noting that he has no assets and that the FBI has taken his passport.
Shroff said McFarland was paying off a $100,000 Maserati, which prosecutors tried to claim as an asset.
— Alex Stivers (@AlexStivers) May 1, 2017
McFarland's parents are reportedly "successful" real estate developers in Short Hills, NJ. They sat in the back of the court room during the hearing.
McFarland's next court appearance is on Friday, July 7. A grand jury will determine whether he is indicted (the U.S. Attorney's office had 30 days to secure the indictment). If indicted and convicted, McFarland could face up to 20 years in prison.
After the hearing, McFarland said, "I’d love to speak. I’d love to say something. We’ll set it up for a better time."
When Fyre Fest's collapse was apparent, he spoke to Rolling Stone on April 28, admitting, "We were a little naïve in thinking for the first time we could do this ourselves. Next year, we will definitely start earlier. The reality is, we weren't experienced enough to keep up."