Morning Canary – Billy McFarland “Fyre Fest Fraudster” Gets Six Years

Canary. Photo by 4028mdk09.

Everyone watched the disaster play out on Social Media. It all started on Instagram, ironically, where McFarland started promoting his ‘luxurious Bahamas festival’.

Fyre festival promo
Published April 29 2018

“COME, SEEK, FOR SEARCHING IS THE FOUNDATION OF FORTUNE” reads the caption of “a slide from the Fyre pitch deck,” obtained by Vanity Fair’s The Hive posted on May 1, 2017 on their article titled, Exclusive: The Leaked Fyre Festival Pitch Deck Is Beyond Parody.

It was a follow-up to an article Vanity Fair ran two days before as people in the industry are beginning to pick up on the idea that the McFarland’s festival was already being questioned as “too good to be true,” as rumors of bills not being paid already circulating, saying about “Fyre’s “Instagram-centric” marketing strategy, calling it “a brand activation that plays at being a festival,” on-line Spin points out in their “comprehensive timeline of Fyre Festival’s ongoing disaster.”

For many voracious observers of social media, and some depressed news consumers agonizing through Donald Trump’s first 100 days, the fiasco unfolding around the Fyre Festival in the Bahamas may have been something of a surprise. The festival, which Fyre promoters had marketed on Instagram as the next Coachella, didn’t quite turn out to be the opulent Bahamas getaway, as promised, with yachts and luxury cabanas, celebrity-chef catering, and the greatest live-music entertainment that anyone had ever imagined. Instead, it was more like Lord of the Flies dystopia meets social-media hysteria, circa 2017. The luxury cabanas appeared to be disaster-relief tents. There were no lights. The lavish spread turned out to be a couple of wedges of whole-wheat bread, school-cafeteria-styled sliced cheese, and other accoutrement[s] that appeared picked from a garbage.

Vanity Fair; May 1 2018

And those “were only the trivial problems.” People fainting, not enough water, stranded people on a remote area of an undeveloped part of an island called Grand Exuma, an island, McFarland claimed, Pablo Escobar once owned. (Hint: He never owned an island in the Bahamas.)

Spin goes on to give readers a sourced glimpse through a retrospective lens of the disaster in-the-making of the beginning of (another) 20-something year-old Billy McFarland scam starting in 2015 when McFarland meets rapper Ja Rule, aka, Jeffrey Bruce Atkins, when Ja Rule becomes a “Magnises spokesperson” of a McFarland “black card” “social club for millennial’s that has been accused of failing to follow through on promises of perks like exclusive concert tickets and luxury vacations,” to the end with $100 million class-action lawsuits, plus four other lawsuits, to the ‘leaked Instagram pitch deck full of words,’ Spin says, like “ideate.”

The following video is from the Washington Post, April 28, 2017.

Ja Rule takes to Twitter to exclaim Fyre Festival was “NOT MY FAULT” as social media explodes: “We are working right now on getting everyone of [sic] the island SAFE that is my immediate concern…I will make a statement soon I’m heartbroken at this moment my partners and I wanted this to be an amazing event it was NOT A SCAM as everyone is reporting I don’t know how everything went so left but I’m working to make it right by making sure everyone is refunded… I truly apologize as this is NOT MY FAULT…but I’m taking responsibility I’m deeply sorry to everyone who was inconvenienced by this…”

“By July 1, 2017, Ja Rule faced more than a dozen lawsuits filed by ticket buyers and investors in the failed Fyre festival and his partner in the venture, Billy McFarland, had been indicted for fraud.”

On Thursday, almost 18 months later, Billy McFarland was sentenced in a federal court to six years in jail and ordered to pay $26 million in restitution. Manhattan District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald called him a “serial fraudster,” the Washington Post reported yesterday, saying of the now 26-year-old, “Mr. McFarland is a fraudster and not simply a misguided young man.”

On July 24, the SEC announced that “McFarland, two companies he founded, a former senior executive, and a former contractor had agreed to settle fraud charges against them related to Fyre Festival,” Business Insider reported, the SEC said “McFarland admitted to charges that he defrauded more than 100 investors out of $27.4 million.”

Prosecutor were pushing for 20 years. While out on bail McFarland was arrested this last June “on charges of selling fake tickets through a different company, called NYC VIP Access,” … a company he started in late 2017 unrelated to the Fyre Festival – just months after being indicted – pleaded guilty on July 26 to wire fraud and bank fraud, two days after pleading guilty to the SEC.

“The defendant is a serial fraudster,” Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald said. The Fyre Festival was “not a good idea gone bad” as McFarland sometimes has wanted to portray it, she said.

“Mr. McFarland is a fraudster and not simply a misguided young man,” Buchwald said. “Bad intent was longstanding.”

McFarland fraudulently operated a business from 2013 to 2017 that staged private events, exaggerating its potential and accomplishments to 20 investors, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Kristy Jean Greenberg.

He used false claims about that company as part of a sales pitch to entice 80 investors to pour $24 million into the Fyre Festival, she said. A separate investment of $2 million came from another entity.

The prosecutor said he then diverted $13 million to his private financial accounts to fuel an “extravagant lifestyle” that included moving from an $8,000-a-month Manhattan apartment into a $21,000-a-month penthouse. She said he rode luxury vehicles, took frequent trips and flew in private planes.

“The motivation here was greed, a desire to have a flashy lifestyle,” Greenberg said.

She called McFarland a “selfish and self-absorbed character” and predicted that if he got out of prison soon, “I have no doubt he will be on to the next scam.”

Washington Post; Oct 11 2018

McFarland, in his prepared remarks, apologized, saying he had “been awakened and hit rock bottom by the gravity of incarceration” and that “a fear of letting everybody down drove him to make serious mistakes.”

McFarland’s lawyer Randall Jackson, Court House News reported, who is a former prosecutor of the same district, had argued that the victims of McFarland’s schemes were “sophisticated investors,” but Buchwald, in her sentencing said, “he gets no free pass to rip off the people who could afford to be ripped off,” adding, “some could not afford it.”

“One of those victims, John Nemeth said that McFarland defrauded him of $180,000 of his life savings, including saved lunch money” saying, “I will never be able to replace that money that I fear is lost forever.”

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