Fyre Festival organizer sold fake tickets while out on bail, US says

Matt Stevens
Billy McFarland, the promoter of the failed Fyre Festival in the Bahamas, leaves federal court after pleading guilty to wire fraud charges, Tuesday, March 6, 2018, in New York.
Mark Lennihan | AP

The disgraced organizer of the Fyre Festival, who was charged last year with wire fraud in connection to the failed event, ran a fraudulent ticket-selling scam for several months while he was out on bail and now faces new charges, federal prosecutors said on Tuesday.

The announcement came about two months after the organizer, Billy McFarland, pleaded guilty to defrauding investors and vendors of the festival, marketed as a music extravaganza in the Bahamas. He piled up losses of about $26 million and is scheduled to be sentenced next week.

In a statement on Tuesday, federal prosecutors in Manhattan said that from late 2017 to about March — months after Mr. McFarland had been charged — he ran a company that sold fraudulent tickets to exclusive events like the Met Gala, Burning Man and Coachella. In one case, the authorities said, two customers flew from Florida to New York for the Grammy Awards, only to be turned away at the door.

More from the New York Times:
Organizer of failed Fyre festival pleads guilty to fraud
In wreckage of the Fyre festival, fury, lawsuits and an inquiry
Fyre festival, a luxury music weekend, crumbles in the Bahamas

Prosecutors also allege that Mr. McFarland used an email account in the name of another employee of the company he owned, NYC VIP Access, and sent sale proceeds to other people's financial accounts to try to hide his involvement.

In all, they say, Mr. McFarland, 26, defrauded about 15 customers out of about $100,000. Now, in addition to the two counts of wire fraud to which he has already pleaded guilty, prosecutors have charged him with a third count of wire fraud and one count of money laundering.

"William McFarland, already awaiting sentencing for a prior fraud scheme, allegedly continued to conduct criminal business as usual," United States Attorney Geoffrey Berman said in a statement.

He pleaded guilty to "defrauding investors and vendors of the Fyre Festival, but it is apparent that he did not stop there," added William F. Sweeney Jr., the assistant director in charge of the F.B.I.

Each of the three wire fraud charges carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, as does the single count of money laundering.

Efforts to reach a lawyer for Mr. McFarland were unsuccessful on Tuesday night.

The Fyre Festival — which was billed as an extravagant, opulent experience in the Bahamas — failed in spectacular fashion in April 2017. Hundreds of concertgoers suffered through a disorganized mess filled with soggy tents and cheese sandwiches in foam containers; Blink-182, which was to headline the festival, never performed.

The event was such a disaster that several lawsuits were filed seeking millions and alleging fraud, breach of contract and more. The endeavor also became the focus of a criminal investigation.

In June 2017, Mr. McFarland was arrested by federal agents at his home in Manhattan and charged with wire fraud. The next day he made his first appearance before a magistrate judge and was released on $300,000 bail.

In March, he pleaded guilty to two counts of wire fraud related to the festival and to his company Fyre Media. He told the federal judge, Naomi Reice Buchwald, that he had begun organizing the festival with good intentions but had "greatly underestimated the resources" it would take.

"I lied to investors about various aspects of Fyre Media and my personal finances," Mr. McFarland said at the time. "I deeply regret my actions."