MANHATTAN (CN) – Fyre Festival promoter Billy McFarland was sentenced Thursday to six years in jail and $26 million in restitution for frauds that ran long after a disastrous 2017 concert in the Bahamas led to his arrest.
“Mr. McFarland is a fraudster and not simply a misguided young man,” U.S. District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald said this afternoon.
Though McFarland pleaded guilty in July to defrauding investors in what he billed as an ultra-luxurious music festival on the Bahamian island of Exuma, the 26-year-old drew an additional wire fraud count for his subsequent creation of a sham ticket business called NYC VIP Access.
“If nothing else, the court must uphold the rule of law,” Buchwald added. “Your choices and yours alone are the reason for your sentence.”
During his prepared speech, McFarland depicted himself as a young man who made mistakes and had been motivated by fear of letting down those who had trusted him.
“I made decisions that were a slap in the face to everything my family tried to teach me,” he said.
Over the course two weekends in April and May 2017, McFarland’s company Fyre Media promised headline acts like Blink-182 and Migos, and the young executive promised to guarantee investments even after the show canceled.
Instead of entertainment and luxury on a tropical island, concertgoers who paid thousands of dollars for their tickets received prepackaged sandwiches and tents instead of villas.
“When the festival failed, my world crashed,” McFarland said today.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Kristy Greenberg called McFarland’s motive simple greed.
She noted that shortly before the festival in early 2017, McFarland used investor money to upgrade from an $8,000-per-month apartment to a three-bedroom penthouse in Manhattan that cost $21,000 per month.
“He wanted instant gratification, and to accomplish that he had to lie,” she said.
Prosecutors had pushed for McFarland to spend nearly two decades behind bars, noting that while on bail he sold tickets that he could not deliver, then lied about it to the FBI.
But defense attorney Randall Jackson insisted that his client needed “significant mental health treatment.” Though now with the powerhouse firm Boies, Schiller & Flexner, Jackson formerly served as federal prosecutor in the same district.
Two psychiatrists diagnosed McFarland with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and mania, but prosecutors noted that his defense strategy emerged only after trying to minimize his conduct as a young man who tried to atone for his mistakes.
Greenberg mocked the defense’s about-face as “The Tale of Two Billys.”
Rejecting the argument that McFarland’s victims were sophisticated investors, Judge Buchwald said he gets “no free pass to rip off the people who could afford to be ripped off.”
“Some could not afford it,” the judge added.
One of those victims, John Nemeth, said that McFarland defrauded him of $180,000 of his life savings, including saved lunch money.
“I will never be able to replace that money that I fear is lost forever,” he said.