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Fyre Festival Organizer Billy McFarland Has Been Arrested

The 25-year-old has been charged with wire fraud in connection with the festival. If convicted, he could face up to 20 years in prison.

by Alex Robert Ross
03 July 2017, 3:30am

Photo: William N Finley IV on Twitter.

Billy McFarland, the man behind the chaotic, extremely-not-luxurious Fyre Festival, was arrested by federal agents at his home in Manhattan on Friday night and charged with one count of wire fraud. The charge is directly linked to April's hastily-abandoned festival. If convicted, McFarland could face up to 20 years in prison.

McFarland rose to infamy a little over two months ago after Fyre Festival—billed as a luxury super-festival on a Bahamian island—turned out to be something more akin to a post-apocalyptic disaster. The high-end accommodations that organizers had promised turned out to be hastily-assembled tents, gourmet catering services pulled out in advance, and, even before the festival was cancelled, headliners Blink-182 had withdrawn. After a few days of intense social media scrutiny and plenty of jokes at the expense of organizers and attendees, a statement on the festival's website conceded: "We were simply in over our heads."

The charge against McFarland alleges that, while other organizers may have been out of their depth, McFarland himself was actively attempting to defraud investors. "As alleged, William McFarland promised a 'life changing' music festival but in actuality delivered a disaster," Acting Manhattan U.S. Attorney Joon Kim said yesterday. "McFarland allegedly presented fake documents to induce investors to put over a million dollars into his company and the fiasco called the Fyre Festival. Thanks to the investigative efforts of the FBI, McFarland will now have to answer for his crimes."

Those "fake documents" relate to two companies: Fyre Media—who book high-profile guests for events—and its subsidiary, Fyre Festival LLC. The criminal case says that at least two investors put roughly $1.2 million each into the two companies between 2016 and 2017, relying on false information from McFarland.

The New York Times handily broke those documents down last night:

[McFarland] said Fyre Media had earned millions of dollars from thousands of bookings this year and last. But in reality, the complaint said, his company had taken in only $57,443. And in one communication with an investor, Mr. McFarland supplied a Scottrade statement that he had altered to inflate his ownership of a particular company's stock. According to the complaint, the fake document showed that Mr. McFarland owned $2.5 million in shares, when in reality his position was worth $1,500.

Ja Rule, McFarland's business partner through Fyre Festival, is not mentioned in the case and has not been arrested. "Mr. Atkins is not under arrest and we don't perceive him to be a subject of this investigation," Stacey Richman, one of Ja Rule's lawyers, said in a statement.

On top of the federal charges, both McFarland and Ja Rule still face a dozen or so lawsuits in connection with the festival.

Follow Alex Robert Ross on Twitter.