Fyre Festival CEO Faces Charges For Luring Investors With Fake Artist Deals

Billy McFarland allegedly made out that performers like Drake, Kendrick Lamar, and Chance the Rapper were generating income for his company.

by Gabrielle Bluestone
02 July 2017, 11:07pm

Fyre Festival founder and CEO Billy McFarland was arrested Friday and charged with one count of wire fraud for allegedly lying to investors to induce them to give him money. One of his methods, court records show, was to suggest big-name performers like Drake, Kendrick Lamar, and Chance the Rapper were generating income for the company.

McFarland was the principal organizer of the disastrous Fyre Festival, which billed itself as a luxury music festival experience, but left attendees stranded in a few hundred FEMA-style tents arrayed in a gravel pit next to a Sandals resort. The fiasco, which played out in real time across social media, left hundreds of millennials stuck in the Bahamas and millions of dollars unaccounted for.

Though McFarland also owes money to ticket holders, vendors, and his own employees, the criminal complaint focuses specifically on the alleged lies McFarland used to lure in additional investors in the final weeks leading up to the festival. Former employees familiar with the matter say he was running out of money and needed the investments in order to keep the festival afloat.

"In order to procure these investments, McFarland provided materially false information. For example, McFarland told investors that Fyre Media earned millions of dollars of revenue from thousands of artist bookings from at least July 2016 until April 2017. In reality, during that approximate time period, Fyre Media earned less than $60,000 in revenue from approximately 60 artist bookings," acting United States Attorney for the Southern District Joon Kim said in a statement Friday.

The complaint does not name the investors, but sources familiar with the matter say the victim identified as "Victim-1" is Oleg Itkin, a financier who loaned the festival $700,000 and later sued McFarland after the festival collapsed.

Calls to Itkin were not returned.

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