NEW YORK — The promoter of a failed music festival in the Bahamas who is awaiting sentencing on fraud charges was arrested on new fraud charges Tuesday, leading a judge to order his detention.
Billy McFarland, 26, will remain behind bars until a judge, who is scheduled to sentence him next week in the festival case, decides whether he can be freed on bail.
McFarland pleaded guilty to wire fraud charges in March in a deal that called for him to serve between eight and 10 years in prison, although he has requested leniency with no incarceration. The plea pertained to the bungled spring 2017 Fyre Festival on the Bahamian island of Exuma that cost over 80 investors a total of $26 million.
The festival was anything but the ultra-luxurious event promoted as “the cultural experience of the decade” and touted on social media by Kendall Jenner, Bella Hadid, Emily Ratajkowski and other models and celebrities.
His lawyer, Randall Jackson, argued Tuesday that McFarland had proven he was no risk to flee by surrendering when he learned FBI agents were looking for him. He also said one of McFarland’s colleagues, cooperating with prosecutors, was framing him.
“We vigorously contest what is in this complaint,” he told U.S. Magistrate Judge Gabriel W. Gorenstein in Manhattan.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Kristy Greenberg called McFarland a financial threat to the community, saying he’d used the client list of the Fyre Festival to pitch a new ticket fraud that promised tickets to music, fashion and sporting events that he didn’t possess and had no way of getting.
Prosecutors said over 15 victims had been bilked since late last year of more than $100,000 as McFarland and his workers sold non-existent tickets to the 2018 Met Gala, Burning Man 2018, Coachella 2018, the 2018 Grammy Awards, Super Bowl LII and a Cleveland Cavaliers game that would include a team dinner with Lebron James.
Greenberg said McFarland was living lavishly with monthlong stays in luxury hotels and excursions to expensive restaurants. And he’d told his workers that he would flee if he is sentenced to over three years in prison next week, she said.
“The weight of the evidence here is quite strong,” Greenberg said. “He targeted the same victims who tried to attend his Fyre Festival.”
She said prosecutors were considering additional charges including bank fraud and an identity theft charge that would carry a mandatory two-year prison sentence upon conviction.
“Mr. McFarland is a serial fraudster, plain and simple,” Greenberg told Gorenstein. “Mr. McFarland is looking at a significant term of imprisonment.”
Jackson said his client has been cooperative with the government and was ready to answer any questions.
Gorenstein, noting that McFarland would likely face an additional two years or so in prison if he is convicted in the new case, said that if he is freed on bail in the Fyre Festival case, he’ll face a $1 million bail on the new charges.