Convicted fraudster Billy McFarland is asking for donations for a new project he’s started from his prison cell — but this time, he swears it’s legit.
Project-315, launched April 3, claims to help connect prisoners with their families in these socially distant times spurred by the coronavirus pandemic.
Though federal prisons have banned family visits in response to the dangers of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, they have also increased the amount of time inmates are allowed to talk on the phone with loved ones.
Prisoners still have to pay for these calls — and the $3.15 of a 15-minute phone call is too much for many inmates to afford, according to the project’s website. The project hopes to provide prisoners with funds for these calls.
But Project-315 has a problem in that its founder has a well-documented history of scamming people.
McFarland, 28, was sentenced to six years in prison in 2018 for swindling investors out of millions of dollars in his infamous Fyre Festival.
The Festival, which sold tickets starting at $450 for a day-pass and going up to a $250,000 VIP package, promised a luxurious, “transformative” experience at an island in the Bahamas once owned by Pablo Escobar, according to The Washington Post.
It was an utter disaster that was ultimately the subject of two competing documentaries on both Netflix and Hulu, detailing the entire fiasco.
The island was woefully unprepared for the festival. Many performers pulled out last-minute, and instead of luxury lodging and world-class cuisine that was promised, attendees found only wet tents, half-built amenities and little food or water, Consequence of Sound reported.
McFarland was accused of scamming his investors out of $26 million. He pled guilty to the charges – and while awaiting his sentencing, went on to swindle another $100,000 through another phony ticket-selling scheme, according to the Associated Press.
Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald called McFarland a “serial fraudster” and said the Festival was “not a good idea gone bad,” according to AP.
“Mr. McFarland is a fraudster and not simply a misguided young man,” the judge said. “Bad intent was longstanding.”
Prior to the Fyre Festival, McFarland also ran an ill-fated elite credit card called Magnises, which was accused of lying about its success to investors and offering users exclusive show tickets that it could not afford and did not refund, according to Oxygen.com.
McFarland acknowledged supporters’ likely concerns about Project-315 in a lengthy letter on the nonprofit’s website.
“If I were you, I’d think this is a scam, and that I am full of s---,” he wrote.
But McFarland claims he’s turned a new leaf and is “extremely sorry” for his history of swindling. He said the Fyre Festival taught him the value of “connecting and bringing people together,” and that’s what he says he hopes Project-315 will do.
He will not be getting paid for this project, will not have access to its funds, and will not be handling any of the donations, McFarland claimed.
He also promised “extreme transparency” about Project-315’s finances, with public accounting statements every week and public answers to any questions about the project’s finances.
“[P]rison time has matured my mission, and only solidified my belief that the good that can be created and shared when different people come together is more than potent; it’s my source of inspiration to help those I’ve wronged,” he wrote.
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