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Fyre Festival founder Billy McFarland settles with SEC, must repay $27.4 million

Fyre Festival founder Billy McFarland settles with SEC, must repay $27.4 million


Two of his lieutenants have settled with the government as well

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Image: Fyre Festival LLC

Fyre Festival puppet master Billy McFarland may not be going to prison (yet, anyway), but he does owe the people he defrauded — via the beautiful, doomed disaster that was the one-percenter island music festival, and before that, the fake influencer credit card company Magnises — to the tune of $27.4 million.

Following news of McFarland’s guilty plea on two counts of wire fraud earlier this year, the Securities and Exchange Commission has settled with him and two of his lieutenants, Grant Margolin (his CMO) and Daniel Simon (an independent contractor), after alleging that the trio had fraudulently hoovered up money from more than 100 investors by misrepresenting themselves. The quote from the SEC’s latest press release is choice:

McFarland induced investors to entrust him with tens of millions of dollars by fraudulently inflating key operational, financial metrics and successes of his companies, as well as his own personal success – including by giving investors a doctored brokerage account statement purporting to show personal stock holdings of over $2.5 million when, in reality, the account held shares worth under $1,500. 

Naturally, McFarland used the money he received to fund the lifestyle he’d always wanted — partying with celebs, private jets, etc. — as is the wont of the high-end scammer. “McFarland gained the trust of investors by falsely portraying himself as a skilled entrepreneur running a series of successful media companies,” said Melissa Hodgman, the associate director of the SEC’s Enforcement Division, in another absolutely brutal quote.

Image: Fyre Festival LLC

McFarland, Margolin, and Simon were charged with “violating the antifraud provisions of the federal securities laws,” and the three have agreed to pay back the money they bilked. McFarland owes $27.4 million and has been permanently barred from serving as either an officer or a director of a public company; the SEC release says his previous agreement to forfeit $26 million as part of the pending criminal plea deal with the U.S. Attorney’s office will suffice in place of the $27.4 million. Margolin owes $35,000, and agreed to a 7-year ban; Simon owes a relatively reasonable $15,000, and has been banned for three years. (As the SEC deftly notes: this settlement is still subject to court approval.)

It’s a fine ending to last year’s wild saga, which is remembered fondly by everyone who didn’t buy $12,000 tickets for McFarland’s “once-in-a-lifetime” concert in the Bahamas. But honestly, it could only have ended this way; any good deed that generates this much schadenfreude and embarrasses hundreds of wealthy socialites cannot go unpunished. (Jeffrey Atkins, aka Ja Rule, who promoted the festival alongside McFarland and co., has not been charged with anything.) Even if we won’t always have McFarland, we’ll always have Fyre Festival. Mark him down with Anna Sorokin as another casualty of the Summer of the Grift, as it rolls inevitably on.

Correction: an earlier version of this story stated that Billy McFarland had been convicted in a criminal case and would not be seeing prison time. It has since been corrected to reflect the fact that he accepted a plea deal and it has not yet been determined whether his sentence will include jail time.