Brow Beat

Fyre Festival Organizer and “Consummate Con Artist” Billy McFarland Sentenced to Six Years in Prison

Billy McFarland, wearing a blue blazer, smiles.
Billy McFarland.
Patrick McMullan/Getty Images

Billy McFarland, the man behind last year’s disastrous “luxury” Fyre Festival in the Bahamas, has been sentenced to six years in federal prison and ordered to pay restitution of $26 million. The 26-year-old pleaded guilty earlier this year on multiple counts of fraud in connection to the infamous music festival as well as for running a fake ticket-selling company. Prosecutors argued in court that McFarland was “the consummate con artist,” and on Thursday, Judge Naomi Buchwald delivered his sentence in Manhattan.

The Fyre Festival made headlines in April 2017 after Lord of the Flies–like accounts and photos from the supposedly glamorous event went viral, with attendees reporting chaos, theft, and mediocre ham-and-cheese sandwiches despite the exorbitantly high ticket prices. The festival, which was canceled after some guests had already arrived, had attracted a number of famous promoters and investors, including rapper Ja Rule, whose original response to reports was that the festival was “not a scam” and who has since downplayed his role in its organization. Ja Rule was originally named as a codefendant in a successful $5 million lawsuit filed by two Fyre Festival attendees, but he was dropped after making a separate agreement with the plaintiffs. He is currently fighting another $100 million class-action suit.

McFarland was arrested in June 2017, after which he started NYC VIP Access, which sold fake tickets to events such as the Super Bowl and the Met Gala. (Hey, we can’t all be Sandra Bullock.) The company even targeted subscribers to the Fyre Festival mailing list with offers that included presale tickets to Burning Man, which Burning Man representatives warned were bogus. McFarland’s lawyers argued that Fyre Festival was not a scam but a flawed business scheme and invoked his mental health as part of his defense, but the fact that McFarland ran his second fraudulent company while awaiting trial factored into Buchwald’s sentence. She called him “unique in this court’s memory.”

Really adds a whole new meaning to “Let’s just do it and be legends.”