The Fyre Festival is allegedly under investigation by the FBI for “possible mail, wire and securities fraud” according to a report by the New York Times. The report comes via “a source with knowledge of the matter, who was not authorized to discuss it,” so should be taken with a dose of skepticism, but the investigation is allegedly being conducted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Southern New York and the FBI.
According to Pitchfork, the investigation is allegedly being led by a prosecutor attached to the FBI’s complex frauds and cybercrimes unit. Among many other damages, Blink 182, who were set to headline the festival, are currently fighting to get their vehicle and equipment unstuck from “customs limbo,” and organizer William “Billy” McFarland and his company, Fyre Media, are facing lawsuits from several sides – more than a dozen, according to The Guardian.
The Fyre Festival, organized by McFarland and rapper/business partner Ja Rule, suffered problems from the moment that the first guests touched down; VIP guests arriving on the remote island of Great Exuma in the Bahamas found themselves on a dark, empty beach. Instead of “first-class culinary experiences and a luxury atmosphere,” they found a few forlorn canopies and some folding chairs.
Reports filled social media, of panicked festival-goers scrambling to find shelter and meet their basic needs. Some people laughed, others were horrified, but it was clear that the Fyre Festival was not all that they had hoped it would be.
Now, the New York Times says that the event is the focus of a criminal investigation; while authorities have refused to comment, the number of people owed significant sums of money by Fyre Media is allegedly impressive, from investors to attendees to performers and caterers.
MaryAnn Rolle, of Exuma Point Beach Bar And Grill, says that she was hired to cater the event; she also rented villas to festival crew. Overall, she claims that the festival owes her $134,000. “I’m struggling,” she said. “It’s embarrassing.”
McFarland, meanwhile, made some early attempts at damage control, promising that the reports were “sensationalized” and that Fyre would survive to hold another festival next year – even as the first lawsuits were rolling in. He attributed the festival’s cancellation to a number of unrelated factors, including weather. He and his lawyers later released a statement that he planned to “make this right.”
“I cannot emphasize enough how sorry I am that we fell short of our goal. I’m committed to, and working actively to, find a way to make this right, not just for investors but for those who planned to attend.”
Stacey Richman, a lawyer for Ja Rule, added that he would “never participate in anything fraudulent; it’s simply not in his DNA.”
But other investors and associates of McFarland expressed a lack of surprise that the festival had turned out the way that it had. “The lies didn’t start with the Fyre Festival, let’s make that clear,” said Patrick McMullan, a professional party photographer who met McFarland when photographing events for his former company, Magnises, which started out as a membership club offering discounts and special events. And at first, it “ran like clockwork,” according to Craig Lawrence of modeling agency One Management.
“I was told he had made this big company, he had made millions of dollars.”
“I thought he was smarter than he was.”
As Magnises expanded, members complained of offers that never materialized, early charges for membership dues, and odd mass-texts from McFarland, attempting to make more money on the side, offering deals on hoverboards and weekend rentals of his Maserati.
In the long run, McFarland established Fyre Media in early 2016. Employees, speaking on condition of anonymity, described the operation as haphazard. Ultimately, many of McFarland’s investors in Fyre Media believe that they were defrauded from the beginning.
The Fyre Festival may or may not prove to be McFarland’s legal undoing; currently, that he is under investigation for fraud is only an allegation. Regardless, it seems unlikely that investors will be trusting Fyre Media with their money again anytime soon.
[Featured Image by Joe Scarnici/Getty Images]