Two North Carolina men were promised refunds after Fyre Festival founder Billy McFarland lured them to the Bahamas with the promise of a private island vacation before abandoning them in a FEMA-style campsite. They could end up owning their own islands instead, after a North Carolina judge granted them $5 million in damages stemming from the event.
They are the first victims of the festival to obtain a judgement against McFarland, who is currently in jail. McFarland is due to be sentenced next month on two counts of wire fraud, but his legal problems won’t end there. Prosecutors hit him with a new set of charges earlier this month, alleging he continued scamming people while out on bail under the guise of a new company called “NYC VIP Access.”
Blogger Seth Crossno and co-plaintiff Mark Thompson, who both live in Raleigh, North Carolina, filed the 47-page lawsuit against McFarland in May 2017. On Thursday, the judgment was granted in absentia after the 26-year-old failed to respond to more than a year’s worth of court proceedings.
McFarland’s partner, the rapper Ja Rule, was initially named in the suit but removed as a defendant after a separate agreement. “We worked with [him] and his attorney and amicably decided to move on to other business matters,” Crossno said.
According to Crossno’s lawyer, Stacy Miller, each plaintiff was granted $1.5 million in compensatory damages plus an additional $1 million in punitive damages — far more than the $25,000 minimum they asked for in their initial filing, which Miller said is the typical amount used to trigger a lawsuit in North Carolina. Miller said the $1.5 million figure, which was determined during the trial, included specific items like hotels and flights and more nebulous damages like mental anguish, pain, and suffering.
In the lawsuit, Crossno and Thompson say they spent about $13,000 on luxury VIP packages for the festival that purported to include exclusive artist passes and a “residence consisting of four rooms and a living area,” located on a private island.
Instead, they found soggy FEMA-style tents arranged around a gravel development pit with none of the amenities they had paid for. According to the suit, the men felt uncomfortable with the chaotic situation and left for the airport when they noticed a Bahamian native “walking around and near the site with a machine gun.” They were locked in the airport overnight before leaving the next morning on a 9:30 a.m. flight.
“We feel very satisfied,” Miller said. “We asked the court to send a message to those who defraud North Carolina consumers, and we believe he did.”
Crossno said that while he’s happy about the verdict, he’s even happier that he can now comment publicly on the festival after rising to Twitter fame while livetweeting the event. He has a podcast called “Dumpster Fyre” in the works, and recently applied for the Fyre trademark, which had expired.
He may have to be happy with that for now — it’s not entirely clear whether McFarland, who, over the last year has been dropped by a series of attorneys and crisis management groups for nonpayment, has that much money available.
But Miller pointed to a recent motion filed by federal prosecutors in McFarland’s criminal case suggesting he may still have some funds stocked away, including at least $50,000 in cash and a $40,000-per-month income from “freelance work” that he allegedly reported to his probation officer.
“We feel confident about collecting,” Miller said. “I can’t tell you a whole lot about how we’re going to collect it, but we feel confident about it. We have to stay mum on our strategy.”
Whatever it is, he feels confident his clients will prevail over the dozen-odd class action and investor suits currently pending across the country against McFarland and Fyre Media.
“I think there’s going to be a lot of people looking to collect, but we’ll be first,” Miller said.
McFarland, who is in jail and was not represented in the civil case, could not be reached for comment.
Cover image: Billy McFarland, the promoter of the failed Fyre Festival in the Bahamas, leaves federal court after pleading guilty to wire fraud charges, Tuesday, March 6, 2018, in New York. He faces a sentence of 8 to 10 years. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)