Fyre Fest Founder Billy McFarland Ordered to Pay $26 Million Following Guilty Plea
Billy McFarland, the promoter behind last year’s disastrous Fyre Festival, accepted a $26 million forfeiture as part of his plea deal for defrauding investors, and he faces as much as 40 years in prison. But in reality, those numbers are almost as inflated as his promises about the festival.
There’s little likelihood that the injured parties from the Fyre debacle will see much, if any, of that money. And McFarland’s lawyers bartered for a recommended 8-10 year sentence as part of his guilty plea to two counts of wire fraud in federal court on March 6 — although ultimately the term is up to U.S. judge for the Southern District of New York Naomi Reice Buchwald, who sources tell Variety may decide to go light in an effort to get him back in a position to be earning money.
But what chance does the disgraced 26-year-old would-be entrepreneur have for financial rehabilitation? The Fyre Festival has become a metaphor for almost comically inept planning. The heavily hyped event was to be a “luxury concert” — taking place on a small island in the Bahamas and featuring Blink-182, Migos and Disclosure — that collapsed on in a mess of disorganization on April 29 before it had even started. Far from the luxury accommodations and celebrity-chef-prepared meals promised by its producers — McFarland and rapper Ja Rule — concertgoers were met with flimsy tents, boxed lunches, near-total disorganization and long waits for flights to return to the mainland after airlines began refusing to fly would-be concertgoers to the overcrowded island of Exumas. One production professional briefly associated with the festival told Variety the event was marked by “incompetence on an almost inconceivable scale.”
While it’s possible some money could be raised by a documentary film (“Bonfyre of the Vanities”?) or a “my story” memoir McFarland could write while behind bars, there’s little chance they would raise even a fraction of the forfeiture obligation.
On top of that, any money recovered goes first to Uncle Sam. “Under federal law, forfeiture funds go to the government — it isn’t restitution,” white-collar criminal defense attorney Alan Ellis tells Variety. And although the Department of Justice’s “Guidelines on Seized and Forefeited Property” includes secured creditors as priority third-party beneficiaries (followed by employees on active payroll, then vendors), these are preceded by a long list of government uses for the funds — foremost being compensation to the investigative units and enforcement branches that brought the offender to justice.
All of which means that the ticket purchasers who have filed class-action lawsuits — who do not fall into any of the above-described categories — are unlikely to be the beneficiaries of forfeiture funds, except possibly as part of ticketing firm Vendor-1’s $2 million claim, which merited a fraud count all its own (though many customers purchased directly through Fyre Festival LLC).