Billy McFarland, the organizer of the aborted Fyre Festival in the Bahamas, was arrested in New York on Friday and charged with one count of wire fraud.
Law-enforcement officials from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York allege that McFarland, 25, perpetrated “a scheme to defraud investors” in a company he controlled, Fyre Media LLC, which was behind the music festival set to take place in the Bahamas in April. Fyre, the brainchild of McFarland and his celebrity partner, Ja Rule, was abruptly cancelled in the hours after it had been slated to begin when reports of inadequate food and shelter, delayed flights, lost luggage, artist cancellations and bad weather started pouring in.
“As alleged, William McFarland promised a ‘life changing’ music festival but in actuality delivered a disaster,” said Acting Manhattan U.S. Attorney Joon Kim. “McFarland allegedly presented fake documents to induce investors to put over a million dollars into his company and the fiasco called the Fyre Festival.”
The Fyre Festival had been billed as a luxury event with top-flight artists (Major Lazer, Rae Sremmurd, Migos and Disclosure were on the bill), food and scenery. Tickets ranged from $1,000 and $250,000, and celebrities like Kendall Jenner, Bella Hadid and Emily Ratajkowski helped promote it on social media. After its swift collapse, McFarland told Rolling Stone that he was planning some “make-up” dates for a 2018 edition of the festival. “The one change we will make,” he said, “is we will not try to do it ourselves. We will make sure there is infrastructure in place to support us.”
McFarland quickly found himself in the crosshairs of a $100 million lawsuit claiming that the “festival’s lack of adequate food, water, shelter, and medical care created a dangerous and panicked situation among attendees.” Also seeking relief were artists scheduled to perform—such as Blink-182, who told the New York Times in the wake of the fiasco that they were unable to reclaim their gear—as well as food vendors and Fyre employees.
According to the criminal complaint, McFarland persuaded at least two investors to contribute approximately $1.2 million in Fyre Media and an associated entity using “materially false information.” For example, the complaint alleges that McFarland “provided an altered brokerage statement that purported to show that he owned shares of a specific stock worth over $2.5 million, when in reality he owned shares of that stock valued at less than $1,500.”
McFarland faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.