Crime and Courts

Chief investigative reporter Jonathan Dienst on crime, corruption and terrorism.
Coronavirus

Fyre Festival Founder Asks for Prison Release Due to COVID-19, Asthma and Heart Woes

Billy McFarland was sentenced to six years in prison after the collapse of the now-infamous festival

Fyre Festival Promoter Arrested
AP, File

The promoter of a botched, highly publicized music festival in the Bahamas is asking to be released from prison to home detention because his teenage asthma diagnosis and heart condition put him at higher risk of catching COVID-19.

Billy McFarland was sentenced to six years in prison in Manhattan federal court in late 2018.

McFarland twice pleaded guilty to charges. First, he admitted he defrauded investors in the 2017 Fyre Festival. Then, weeks later, he pleaded guilty to charges in a ticket selling scam.

"Given the severe outbreak of Covid-19 in the low-security facility, Elkton Federal Correctional Institution ('Elkton'), where Mr. McFarland is currently serving a sentence for the non-violent crime of wire-fraud, Mr. McFarland’s preexisting conditions make him particularly vulnerable to catching and suffering from severe or fatal consequences of the virus which present 'extraordinary and compelling circumstances', - unforeseen at the time of Mr. McFarland’s sentence - which necessitate his immediate release to home confinement," his lawyers wrote in a letter to the court.

McFarland's lawyers said their client was diagnosed with asthma as a teenager, has severe allergies and also has an ongoing heart condition, including what they said was evidence of a heart attack suffered in prison last year.

The now-infamous festival was anything but the ultra-luxurious event promoted as "the cultural experience of the decade" over two weekends and touted on social media by Kendall Jenner, Bella Hadid, Emily Ratajkowski and other models and celebrities.

Customers hoping to see Blink-182 and the hip hop act Migos arrived to learn music acts were canceled. Their upscale accommodations and gourmet food consisted of white tents and cheese sandwiches.

Prosecutors had sought over 15 years in prison for McFarland. His lawyer had urged leniency, saying McFarland suffers from mental illness that includes delusional beliefs that his talents will lead to "fame and fortune."

In a letter to the court accompanying the motion, McFarland said prison had changed him.

"I'm living with a level of peace and acceptance that I lost in the events leading up to my arrest. I'm working harder than ever, in furtherance of a mission I truly know is right. I know that by living every day with the dedication of helping those I let down, and by doing it within the rules and regulations, I will slowly but surely continue down the path so I badly needed to regain," he said.

The Associated Press / NBC New York
Contact Us