Early in the summer, the Fyre Festival made headlines as reports from the event showed the grave conditions guests were faced with, contrasting sharply with the promises of luxury and opulence offered by the organizers. Now, Billy McFarland, the festival's organizer often blamed for the event's total failure, is pleading not guilty to charges of wire fraud and making false statements to a bank in Manhattan federal court.
The Fyre Festival used an influencer marketing strategy that appealed to the wealthy by showing off extravagent ammenities and a lineup of big-name musical acts.
The festival fell apart as guests arrived on the Bahamian island, with all of the performers and the caterer pulling out. Attendees were met with incredibly poor conditions, including a lack of food, roving stray dogs, and unsanitary tents — contrasting sharply with the images of models on jetskis used to sell the concerts. Some guests had paid thousands for tickets.
According to Variety, McFarland appeared in court on Monday to proclaim his innocence. He had been arrested on June 30 on criminal charges pertaining to the festival. McFarland has waived indictment, meaning that the organization of a grand jury has been forgoed and that the evidence presented in the case will have been collected by federal investigators.
The fraud charges McFarland specifically faces are two counts of wire fraud (one for scheming to defraud investors through actions including falsifying emails) and the other scheming to defraud vendors.
Court filings indicate that investors were baffled by McFarland's revenue breakdowns days before the festival was supposed to begin. McFarland had said he had put millions into the festival, leading to one investor describing the situation as “mind boggling ... [McFarland had] not started fully marketing yet! I’m really curious to understand how it happens."
Leaked emails from McFarland's team also show attempts at cutting costs as the festival disintegrated: "If we cut it [the number of toilets] in half, we would just have double the line wait? I'm seeing some sites that say we could get away with 75 toilets," read one email.
"No one is eating so therefore no ones pooping," read another.
The government was technically required to bring an indictment against McFarland within 30 days of his arrest but a mutual agreement allowed for an extension of this deadline.
The trial was not well attended; the "Chelsea Bomber" trial had begun at the same time.
McFarland's notable business partner, Ja Rule, does not face any criminal charges over the festival disaster. McFarland and Ja Rule do, however, face a series of class action suits against them.
[Photo: Getty Images]