Fyre Festival organizer Billy McFarland pleaded guilty to misleading investors in Manhattan federal court on Tuesday.
McFarland’s Fyre Media became notorious last year for a failed music festival. The event had promised a glamorous weekend in the Bahamas, but images from Fyre Festival instead featured tents, port-a-potties and sad cheese sandwiches. The Fyre Media CEO said he accepted full responsibility for several serious mistakes he made and acknowledged that he engaged in “fraudulent behavior.”
McFarland apologized to his company, investors and family and said he deeply regretted his actions. He also agreed to forfeit more than $26 million.
U.S. attorney Geoffrey Berman said, “As he admitted today, William McFarland tendered fake documents to induce investors and a ticket vendor to put more than $26 million into his company and the disastrous Fyre Festival. He now awaits sentencing for his admitted swindle.”
McFarland had been charged with two counts of wire fraud. Each count carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison according to federal guidelines, but the actual sentence will be determined by the judge.
The first count alleged that McFarland misrepresented his company’s financial health in order to secure investments for Fyre Media.
For example, the Fyre Media CEO provided falsified documents that claimed millions in income earned from talent bookings. But in reality, the company only earned $57,443 for that period. McFarland also presented documents claiming more than 2,500 confirmed talent bookings in one month, when only 60 were confirmed in an entire year.
The U.S. attorney’s office said these misrepresentations created losses for at least 80 investors, totaling more than $24 million.
The second count alleged that McFarland provided false income statements to a ticket vendor in order to get $2 million for a block of advance tickets to future festivals. Based off those misstatements, the vendor entered into an agreement with McFarland and Fyre which unconditionally guaranteed $2.4 million from the sales of those pre-purchased tickets.
His sentencing is scheduled for June 21.