In April 2017, hundreds of millennials descended on the Bahamas for what they were promised would be a luxury Coachella held on a private island once owned by Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar. Tickets cost between $4,000 and $12,000 to attend what was being marketed as "the best in food, art, music, and adventure on the boundaries of the impossible." Turns out, it was just plain impossible.
After stepping off the plane, attendees quickly realized there were no models gallivanting on the beach, as depicted in the festival trailer. Instead, there were wet tents and literal pigs. And now, nearly two years after the fiery hellscape, we are being rewarded with a one-two punch of Fyre Festival documentaries — Hulu's Fyre Fraud, streaming now, and Netflix's Fyre, coming out on January 18.
The mastermind behind the festival: Billy McFarland, career scammer and, now, convicted felon. So just how much was he worth — and how much did he lose? Below, we did some digging.
Before there was Fyre Festival, there was Magnises: a black card with membership perks peddled by McFarland that cost members $250 per year for exclusive events and a concierge service. And while Magnises was more legit than Fyre — there were actual events, at least at first — its finances and legality were murky from the start. McFarland inflated the amount of users of the service, and many users complained when tickets to events they were promised never came. Many demanded refunds and never got them.
But Magnises was only the amuse-bouche to Fyre Festival's now-infamous bread and cheese sandwich thrown haphazardly in a styrofoam box. The festival was in legal hot water from the start. Weeks leading up to it, Fyre Media Inc., the company behind the festival, claimed to investors that it was worth $90 to $105 million, yet around the same time, McFarland told employees that there would be no payroll. Just two weeks before the festival, the company defaulted on a $3 million loan. McFarland lied to over 80 investors, who, altogether, reportedly lost over $26 million. He lied about his personal finances as well — allegedly claiming he had $2.5 million in Facebook stock, when he actually had around $1,500.
Following the fiasco, McFarland told Rolling Stone that his top priority would be making sure every guest was refunded. He also said there would be a make-up festival in May 2018, free to everybody who bought tickets to the original. And, ever the good philanthropist, he claimed that Fyre would donate $1.50 per ticket to the Bahamian Red Cross. Two years later, no festival attendees have received refunds, and I'll go out on a limb here and say that Fyre Festival 2.0 is not happening.
In 2017, McFarland was hit with a $100 million lawsuit. Last year, he plead guilty to two counts of wire fraud, each of which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years. He also admitted to giving a ticket vendor false information to convince them to pay $2 million for a block of advance tickets for the festival. But old habits die hard. After his arrest, while McFarland was free on $300,000 bail, he led yet another scam and sold nearly $100,000 of fake tickets to exclusive events like the Met Gala, Burning Man, and Coachella.
McFarland is currently serving a six-year sentence in prison, which will be followed by three years of probation, plus he has to pay restitution of over $26 million. And last summer, two attendees who said they spent about $13,000 on the festival were awarded $5 million in damages from another lawsuit against McFarland.