- Billy McFarland is best known for organizing Fyre Festival, the VIP party that turned into a nightmare and instantly became infamous when hundreds of attendees were left stranded in the Bahamas.
- McFarland pleaded guilty to wire-fraud charges in relation to Fyre Festival and sentenced to six years in prison last October. He was also ordered to forfeit $26 million.
- This wasn’t the first time McFarland had come under scrutiny for questionable businesses. Find out more about his wild life below.
Until April 2017, Billy McFarland was relatively unknown outside of the New York elite clubbing scene, but this changed overnight when Fyre Festival, the VIP party that turned into a nightmare situation as attendees were stranded with half-built huts to sleep in and cold cheese sandwiches to eat, lit up social media.
McFarland, the 27-year-old founder of the company behind the festival, pleaded guilty to wire-fraud charges and was sentenced to six years in prison last October. He also faces a $26 million forfeiture order.
Find out more about his wild life below:
Billy McFarland was raised in New Jersey by two real-estate developers. He set up his first business — a service that matched websites and designers — at the tender age of 13.
- Wikimedia Commons
After a short stint at Bucknell University, McFarland dropped out to set up his next business venture: Spling, an online ad platform.
Source: The New York Post
It wasn’t until 2013 that the then-22-year-old McFarland started to make a name for himself with Magnises, an elite club for New York millennials, which was accessed with the club’s black card.
- Getty/Patrick McMullan
Magnises was run out of a West Village townhouse. Members were invited to come and hang out or attend cocktail parties, dinners, art shows, and lectures.
- Patrick McMullan via Getty Images
The membership, which cost $250, was also meant to give members discounted access to exclusive events.
- Madeline Stone / Business Insider
But it transpired that Magnises wasn’t delivering on its promises.
In early 2017, Business Insider reported that Magnises members were complaining that they were not receiving tickets on time, their trips were being canceled, and refunds were taking more than a month to be processed.
By this point, McFarland was already on to his next venture, Fyre Festival, a live music festival that would take place in the Bahamas over two weekends at the end of April and May 2017.
McFarland teamed up with Ja Rule to organize the festival. It was run by Fyre Media, a business McFarland set up in 2016.
It was described as an “immersive music festival” with tickets costing north of $1,200.
- YouTube/Fyre Festival
A host of supermodels promoted the festival, including Alessandra Ambrosio, Hailey Baldwin, Emily Ratajkowski, and Bella Hadid.
Guests were told they would fly in from Miami on a custom Boeing 737 to have the full VIP experience.
- YouTube/Fyre Festival
Instead, they ended up waiting for hours at the airport and collecting their luggage from the back of a shipping container in the dead of night.
Guests were expecting gourmet food and luxurious tents to sleep in.
Instead, they were given cheese sandwiches and salads. The eco-friendly domes and villas that they were mean to sleep in were described as a “disaster tent city.”
Partygoers were left to scramble to get off the island.
In May 2017, McFarland and Ja Rule were sued for $100 million in a class-action lawsuit.
- MusicNotes Conf/Facebook
McFarland was arrested but later released on bail.
In March 2018, McFarland pleaded guilty to two counts of wire fraud.
He was arrested again on June 12 in a separate fraud case. He was charged with earning $100,000 from selling fake tickets to events including Coachella and the Met Gala through a company called NYC VIP Access.
Prosecutors said McFarland began running the business late in 2017, several months after he was arrested on charges that he had defrauded investors out of $26 million.
On June 19, a judge revoked his bail, deeming him a flight risk.
In July, the Securities and Exchange Commission announced that McFarland, two companies he founded (Fyre Media and Magnises), a former senior executive, and a former contractor had agreed to settle charges against them.
Grant Margolin, McFarland’s chief marketing officer, agreed to a seven-year director-and-officer ban and must pay a $35,000 penalty, the SEC said.
It also said Daniel Simon, an independent contractor for McFarland’s companies, agreed to a three-year ban and would pay over $15,000 in disgorgement and penalty.
Later that month, McFarland pleaded guilty to one count of fraud related to the NYC VIP Access ticket scheme.
He also pleaded guilty to one count of bank fraud for writing a check with the name and account number of one of his employees without authorization.
Before his sentencing in October, McFarland’s attorney, Randall Jackson, asked the judge to give him a lighter sentence, citing a psychiatrist report that said he was diagnosed with a bipolar-related disorder.
Jackson said McFarland had “delusional beliefs of having special and unique talents that will lead to fame and fortune,” The Associated Press reported.
On October 11, McFarland was sentenced to six years in prison.
“The remorse I feel is crushing,” he said during his sentencing, Vice News reported. “I lived every day with the weight of knowing that I literally destroyed the lives of my friends and family.”
This week, two highly anticipated TV shows documenting the wild Fyre Festival saga were released. One version features an interview with McFarland.