Promoter of Fyre Festival pleads guilty to fraud
This photo provided by Jake Strang shows mattress and tents set up for attendees of the Fyre Festival, Friday, April 28, 2017 in the Exuma islands, Bahamas. Organizers of the much-hyped music festival in the Bahamas canceled the weekend event at the last minute Friday after many people had already arrived and spent thousands of dollars on tickets and travel. A statement cited "circumstances out of our control," for their inability to prepare the "physical infrastructure" for the event in the largely undeveloped Exumas. (Jake Strang via AP)
Larry Neumeister, The Associated Press
Published Tuesday, March 6, 2018 3:55PM EST
Last Updated Tuesday, March 6, 2018 8:18PM EST
NEW YORK -- The promoter of the failed Fyre Festival in the Bahamas -- once billed as the "cultural experience of the decade" -- pleaded guilty to wire fraud charges Tuesday, agreeing to serve up to a decade in prison for lying to investors and sending false documents.
Billy McFarland, 26, entered the plea in Manhattan federal court in a deal with prosecutors that suggested he serve between eight and 10 years in prison.
"I deeply regret my actions, and I apologize to my investors, team, family and supporters who I let down," a chastened McFarland told U.S. District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald in Manhattan.
He said he planned to organize "a legitimate festival" when he planned the Fyre Festival as an outgrowth of a digital application he launched in May 2016 to help concert promoters and private individuals directly book musicians for concerts.
"I grossly underestimated the resources that would be necessary to hold an event of this magnitude," he said. "In an attempt to raise what I thought were needed funds, I lied to investors about various aspects of Fyre Media and my personal finances. Those lies included false documents and information."
The festival was promoted as "the cultural experience of the decade," an ultra-luxurious event on the Bahamian island of Exuma over two weekends last April and May. It was promoted on social media by Kendall Jenner, Bella Hadid, Emily Ratajkowski and other models and celebrities coaxing people into buying ticket packages ranging from $1,200 to over $100,000.
Customers hoping to see Blink-182 and the hip hop act Migos arrived to learn music acts were cancelled. Their luxury accommodations and gourmet food consisted of leaky white tents and cheese sandwiches. Customers lashed out on social media with the hashtag .fyrefraud.
A lawsuit filed in Los Angeles called the festival "nothing more than a get-rich-quick scam." It said the festival's inadequate food, water, shelter and medical care left attendees stranded on a remote island in a "dangerous and panicked situation."
As part of his plea, McFarland also admitted raising money for the festival by giving a ticket vendor false information about Fyre Media's financial condition last April to induce the vendor to pay $2 million for a block of advance tickets.
McFarland and his attorney, Randall Jackson, declined comment outside court.
McFarland has been free on $300,000 bail since his June arrest. Sentencing was set for June 21.