Frye Festival Organizer Sentenced to 6 Years in Prison on Multiple Counts of Fraud

“The remorse I feel is crushing," Billy McFarland say.

Billy McFarland (Wikimedia Commons)

Billy McFarland, the 26-year-old organizer and founder of the Fyre Festival, has been sentenced to six years in federal prison for multiple counts of fraud. McFarland’s attorneys had asked the court for leniency, saying that he suffered from bipolar disorder—and the disgraced promotor repeatedly apologized for his actions. Nonetheless, U.S. District Judge Naomi Buchwald felt that a six-year sentence was in order.

Buchwald told the court, “Bipolar does not excuse behavior,” pointing out that McFarland had blatantly lied to investors. Nonetheless, the sentence could have been harsher: he was facing the possibility of up to 20 years in prison. 

According to prosecutors, McFarland stole more than $26 million from Fyre Festival investors and contractors.

One of the fraud charges stemmed from a failed festival in the Bahamas. McFarland promoted that event with the help of celebrity investors who included Kendall Jenner and rapper Ja Rule.

Clad in a prison jumpsuit, McFarland told the court, “The remorse I feel is crushing. I lived every day with the weight of knowing that I literally destroyed the lives of my friends and family.”

Some of the people McFarland defrauded spoke out in court, included Joe Nemeth—who is in his late fifties and stressed that McFarland “financially ruined my and my wife’s life.”

Thanks to McFarland, Nemeth asserted, he can forget about ever being able to retire. 

Nemeth told the court, “It took me 20 years of saving my lunch money to save $180,000. I hope the justice system has the last laugh at Mr. McFarland.”

In March, McFarland pled guilty to two counts of wire fraud in connection with the Fyre Festival. But in June, he was arrested again—this time, for a ticket-selling scam he called NYC VIP Access. McFarland falsely claimed to offer access to the Victoria’s Secret Fashion show and other major events—and that scam, according to prosecutors, brought in at least $150,000 in addition to the millions stolen from Fyre Festival investors.  
 

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Alex Henderson is a news writer at AlterNet and veteran political journalist. His work has also appeared in Salon, Raw Story, Truthdig, National Memo, Philadelphia Weekly, Democratic Underground, L.A. Weekly, MintPress News and many other publications. Follow him on Twitter @alexvhenderson.