The 26-year-old entrepreneur responsible for promoting last year’s planned Fyre Festival concert in the Bahamas that turned into a fiasco pleaded guilty in Manhattan federal court on Tuesday to two counts of wire fraud for scamming investors out of at least $26 million.
William McFarland, who faces up to 40 years in prison and a likely sentence between 8 and 10 years under federal sentencing guidelines, said he accepted “full responsibility for several serious mistakes” in raising money for the music festival.
“While my intention and effort was directed to organizing a legitimate festival, I grossly underestimated the resources that would be necessary to hold an event of this magnitude,” McFarland told U.S. District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald.
“In an attempt to raise what I thought were needed funds, I lied to investors about various aspects of Fyre Media and my personal finances,” he said. “ . . . I deeply regret my actions, and I apologize to my investors, team, family, and supporters who I let down.”
McFarland’s Fyre Media was a startup that in 2016 developed an app to allow concert promoters to bid digitally for artist bookings. He then used a subsidiary to begin promoting the festival — planned as a high-end event on the Bahamian island of Exhuma — with pricey tickets that was heavily promoted to well-heeled millennials on social media.
After it collapsed in April, leaving in its wake concert goers stuck on a poorly-provisioned island and angry investors and ticket buyers, McFarland’s finances came under scrutiny.
He was arrested and charged in late June, accused of using misrepresentations to raise millions of dollars by vastly overstating the app’s revenues, the festival’s prospects and his own finances.
While McFarland claimed the app had produced 2,500 talent bookings in a single month, the government said, it had in fact generated only 60 bookings in an entire year and generated only $57,443 in revenue.
In Tuesday’s plea, in addition to admitting to fraudulently raising money for Fyre Media, McFarland also pleaded to a second count in which he defrauded a ticket vendor by using misrepresentations to raise $2 million for a block of advance tickets to fund the Fyre Festival.
Overall, prosecutors said McFarland’s swindle caused losses of more than $26 million to at least 80 investors.
“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,” interim Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said in statement.
Buchwald set McFarland’s sentencing for June 21.