How Much Money Does Billy McFarland Owe the Victims of His Fyre Festival Scam?

Few celebrity scandals are as ridiculous as Fyre Festival. The 2010s were something of a golden age for a new type of scammer. There were so many people using social media and so much free-flowing angel investor cash that McFarland himself fell under the spell of another infamous scammer, Anna Delvey.

Unlike Delvey’s long-running confidence games, the Fyre scam was exposed the moment paying customers arrived at the hellish show. So did those involved, especially McFarland, end up paying back the festival attendees and vendors they bilked?

Billy McFarland smiles with Ja Rule, Matthew Assante, and Waka Flocka, while drinking at a bar in 2016
Matthew Assante, Waka Flocka, Billy McFarland, and Ja Rule at a bar in 2016 | Chance Yeh/Getty Images

Billy McFarland’s infamous Fyre Festival was a disastrous scam

As the New York Times reports, McFarland didn’t design Fyre Festival as a top-to-bottom scam. He raised money from investors and borrowed more, intending to put on something close to what he promised. Ultimately, the focus on raising money over actually building festival infrastructure led to an extremely public disaster once ticket holders arrived at the 2017 event.

High-end chefs were replaced with caterers churning out cold sandwiches. Geodesic domes with luxury features were replaced with simple FEMA-style tents. Major acts like Blink-182 dropped out the moment they learned of the conditions. The few entertainers who arrived quickly made arrangements to flee.

It was the final straw for McFarland’s tech company Fyre Media, which used the event to promote the Fyre event booking app. SEC investigators wondering where the festival money went found a web of wire fraud, with money falling into the company founder’s pockets. McFarland received a six-year sentence (he served four) and must pay back $26 million to Fyre investors.

McFarland thinks the tech world helped his scam more than he ever planned

The former Fyre Media figurehead admits his time as a big tech con man was wrong. But, as viewers of the Fyre Festival Hulu documentary can attest, the man has a habit of dodging total blame. McFarland thinks the tech industry as a whole is the real problem.

The disgraced former CEO points to the “ends justify the means” ethos of the tech investment and startup ecosystem, reports Consequence of Sound. Almost seamlessly, McFarland transitioned to answering how he intends to make up for his crimes.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, McFarland would like to do more of what he was already doing before. His experience is in tech, so he’d like to raise money in the sector he’s familiar with. Unfortunately for his victims, none of his previous ventures were successful except as vehicles for wire fraud. Any new ventures are unlikely to meet much success.

McFarland is out of prison and living well today

McFarland didn’t wait for his prison sentence to end to start trying to make money off his ill-gotten fame. He attempted to start a podcast, which violated prison rules and landed him in solitary confinement. When he got out, he happily participated in the aforementioned Hulu documentary. He notably shunned the Netflix version that refused to pay him.

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The New York Post reports that the most famous fraudster of the 2010s is living well in his post-prison life. McFarland had a party at a high-end New York City bistro the night he was released. Several of his former collaborators — some best described as victims of his scam — were happy to welcome their old boss back into polite society.

McFarland has settled into a one-bedroom apartment in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, paid for by friends and family. He insists that had all things gone as planned, the festival would’ve been a success. But looking at his previous ventures, it’s hard to imagine anything about such a complex event going right under McFarland’s watch.