What is Billy McFarland doing now? Convicted Fyre Festival founder starts business after prison release
NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK: Pure water, stunning people, opulent lodgings, and a schedule of entertainment were all promised during the 2017 Fyre Festival but when festival guests showed up, they were greeted by mayhem, wet sandwiches, and catastrophe tents. Billy McFarland, the company's then-25-year-old CEO and co-founder was at the helm of it all. The businessman has now been released from prison and now started a new venture.
Michael Strahan of ABC sat down for a private conversation with the man responsible for the controversial Fyre Festival. Following his release from prison, McFarland was recorded speaking up for the first time on camera about his time in jail, being dubbed "the ultimate conman" and how he intends to pay back the millions he still owes. In the conversation, he also discusses his time behind bars. "I started lying to get the money. And I would literally wake up every day to a document that we-- were called, 'urgent payment sheet.' And it had an amount of money that I had to acquire by-- before the bank closed that day if-- if it-- to stop the company from going underwater. And so, I was literally day-by-day doing whatever it took. And looking back, it was so incredibly stupid,” McFarland said.
When asked about his conman status, McFarland replied, "I was wrong. So I messed up and I was so driven by this desperate desire to prove people right. I had these early investors, backers, employees -- and I think I was just so insecure that I thought the only way to prove myself to them was to succeed. That led me down just this terrible path of bad decisions." He continued, "It was to prove myself. And once again, I was totally wrong and I lied to investors to get money. But I put every dollar I had or could find to make this festival happen. And I literally came back to New York after with $100 in my pocket." Strahan further questioned McFarland, "You did have so many people, employees, who said, 'We can't-- we cannot make this happen in time.' I'm just so curious as to why you didn't just pull the plug well ahead of the festival?" McFarland replied, "I should have listened. And there-- there is no excuse."
When the reporter referred to the festival as a con and dubbed Mcfarland as a conman, the accused said, "So first off, what I told investors was-- it as wrong. And I think the hardest thing for me is the trust (throat clearing) that I violated. And whether it was friends, investors, or employees -- people gave up a lot to try to make this happen. And it's-- how do I call them now and look them in the eye when I let them down? And it's-- it's all true. And it's-- it's all terrible... I just really should have canceled everything and just stopped lying. Absolutely. And I couldn't pay anybody back, whether it was a ticket holder, or an investor, or a vendor who we might have owed for more bills. And in my mind, I thought the only way to dig myself out of this hole was to pull this event off and build a brand."
After entering a guilty plea, McFarland was given a six-year sentence that he served roughly four years in prison, including two periods spent in solitary. Strahan asked, "What did you learn about yourself in prison?" McFarland answered, "I used to take pride in getting things done and not how things got done... and so I think going forward, the biggest thing for me is building relationships throughout the process. And whether they're a success or failure in the business sense, it's more about how it's done instead of taking pride in-- of this, like, by-all-means idea. That's-- that's wrong." McFarland who is currently 30 years old and on supervised release from prison still owes over $26 million in restitution to investors, suppliers, and concertgoers. Until everything is paid back, his income will be withheld while he operates his new business.
The reporter tried to clear the air by asking, "I know you said you were here to apologize, to say you're sorry. But you're also launching a new venture called 'Pirate.' Are you here to really apologize or are you here more to promote that?" McFarland said, "Yep. So, I need to apologize. And that is the-- the first and the last thing that needs to be done is I let people down. I let down employees. I let down their families. I let down investors. So I need to apologize. I'm wrong and it's bad." When asked if he can be trusted again and how, McFarland suggested, "Time, and just doing little things on a weekly basis, and just slowly building. I went way too fast before. So I need to do everything now in a manageable way that I could actually make work."
Strahan further questioned, "So are you truly a changed man or is this just a spin?" McFarland insisted: "I hope I continue to change for the next 40 years. So I'm certainly not done changing yet. I understand and I think for me, it needs to start with finding internal pride. So I want to be proud of myself first. And I think if I can do that and live like that for a long period of time, I might have a second chance. But if I don't, I understand and I committed far more ethical, moral violations than most people do in many lifetimes, so I get that, if that was my-- my one shot."