UPDATE: Billy McFarland pleaded not guilty in a Manhattan court Monday to charges of wire fraud and making false statements to a bank stemming from the Fyre Festival, Variety reports.
Billy McFarland, the beleaguered entrepreneur who co-organized the Fyre Festival debacle earlier this year, now faces a federal charge of wire fraud. The New York Times reports he was arrested on Friday and faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, though, if convicted, the penalty would likely be less severe.
“As alleged, William McFarland promised a ‘life-changing’ music festival but in actuality delivered a disaster,” Joon Kim, the acting U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, said in a Department of Justice statement. “McFarland allegedly presented fake documents to induce investors to put over a million dollars into his company and the fiasco called the Fyre Festival. Thanks to the investigative efforts of the FBI, McFarland will now have to answer for his crimes.”
McFarland and his Fyre Festival partner, rapper Ja Rule (real name Jeffrey Atkins) are also defendants in more than a dozen other lawsuits, according to the paper. Some suits allege that the pair sent potential investors phony financial info with the hope of getting their money.
Atkins was not arrested on Friday, with his attorney, Stacey Richman, telling the Times that she did not “perceive him to be a subject of this investigation.”
Friday’s charges claimed that McFarland induced multiple people to invest roughly $1.2 million in his Fyre Media and another venture using trumped-up numbers in 2016 and this year. The would-be entrepreneur had claimed to have made millions from artist bookings, though the Justice Department statement claims Fyre Media had actually made less than $60,000 in that time.
The festival was originally scheduled to take place in the Bahamas this past April. Blink-182 and Major Lazer were to perform to a jet-set audience of high rollers, some of whom could have purchased luxury packages priced at $400,000. Those who made it to the island, however, discovered a disaster, including ramshackle tents and picnic food where they had been promised chichi accommodations and gourmet food options. The event was promptly canceled.
“We thought we were making timeframes that were correct,” McFarland said in an interview with Rolling Stone in April about how the fest was conceived. “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.”