Prosecutors want botched music fest promoter to get prison

October 3, 2018

NEW YORK (AP) — Prosecutors urged a judge Wednesday to sentence the promoter of a botched, highly publicized music festival in the Bahamas to over 15 years in prison.

In a written filing in Manhattan federal court, prosecutors said Billy McFarland was “far more interested in the fame and notoriety generated by the festival than he was in paying back investors and his employees.”

The 2017 Fyre Festival, promoted as an ultra-luxurious event and “the cultural experience of the decade,” was supposed to take place over two spring weekends on the Bahamian island of Exuma.

Customers who paid $1,200 to over $100,000 hoping to see Blink-182 and the hip hop act Migos arrived to learn music acts were canceled. Their luxury accommodations and gourmet food consisted of leaky white tents and cheese sandwiches. Customers lashed out on social media with the hashtag #fyrefraud.

The bust was an embarrassment to some famous people after it was promoted on social media by models and celebrities including Kendall Jenner, Bella Hadid and Emily Ratajkowski.

McFarland has twice pleaded guilty to charges. First, he admitted earlier this year he defrauded investors in the Fyre Festival. Then, weeks later, he pleaded guilty to wire fraud in a ticket-selling scam that occurred after his initial arrest.

Prosecutors said McFarland should not receive leniency, in part because he “brazenly dreamed up a new scheme targeting the same victims” while he was free on bail after his initial arrest.

The government also cited examples of lies McFarland told over 80 investors to get them to pour over $26 million into his schemes.

For instance, it said McFarland claimed in early 2017 that his company had booked thousands of acts representing tens of millions of dollars when it had only 60 bookings totaling $57,000 in the preceding year. It also said McFarland embellished his own wealth, telling investors he owned $2.5 million in shares in a public company when he owned only $1,499 worth of shares.

Prosecutors said he used money from investors to live lavishly, including maintaining a Manhattan residence, hiring a private driver of a luxury vehicles and taking frequent trips by private plane while polishing his image through charitable contributions and gifts to friends.

Prosecutors said when he learned he was being investigated for new crimes, he urged witnesses not to speak to the FBI and then made false statements to the government about his conduct.

“So far, the criminal justice system has utterly failed to get the defendant’s attention,” prosecutors wrote.

They said the public needed to be protected “from McFarland’s next scam.”

His lawyer last month urged leniency, saying McFarland suffers from mental illness that includes delusional beliefs that his talents will lead to “fame and fortune.”