It’s been a while, but I still get the odd e-mail or phone call from a stranger purporting to be a cellmate of Fyre Festival felon Billy McFarland, the marketing mastermind who in 2017 roped some of Instagram’s most famous influencers into promoting his doomed music festival. The move lost guests their money (some would also end up stranded on a Bahamian island), and McFarland ultimately landed in prison on charges related to the fiasco.
Though McFarland, who currently owes more than $26 million in restitution, was sentenced to a six-year term less than three years ago, both his alleged prison buddies and official court records indicate he’s gotten a lot done in his short time behind bars.
Even without my unsolicited jailhouse sources’ offers to sell me photos of McFarland and his girlfriend, Anastasia Eremenko, during visiting hours, it’s clear McFarland’s time served so far has been anything but typical.
His court files detail a wild fall from (relative) grace that took him from F.C.I. Otisville—a white-collar prison in upstate New York, where he overlapped with former Trump fixer Michael Cohen and reportedly became Scrabble buddies with Mike “the Situation” Sorrentino—to a stint in solitary confinement, and then to F.C.I. Elkton, a facility in Ohio that suffered “significant levels of infection” when it was hit last April by a coronavirus outbreak so bad that the National Guard had to be called in.
At F.C.I. Otisville, Billy McFarland overlapped with former Trump fixer Michael Cohen and Mike “the Situation” Sorrentino.
Records show McFarland petitioned the court for compassionate release that month, citing pre-existing conditions including asthma, allergies, and heart issues that resulted in a 2019 cardiac event McFarland claims a prison doctor characterized as a “mild heart attack.” In his petition, McFarland’s lawyer wrote that he would use his time in home confinement to “begin paying restitution through legitimate means and provide value to society.”
Unfortunately for McFarland and his restitution plans, none of these pre-existing conditions, according to the prosecution, had been recorded on any medical forms leading up to his incarceration—in fact, his pre-sentencing report notes that McFarland himself said he was in “good health.” The government responded to McFarland’s cardiac-event claims with a simple “Not so.”
McFarland was right to be worried. On July 4, he tested positive for the coronavirus. Like many things since the start of the pandemic, McFarland’s status behind bars was, suddenly, no longer funny. And, like always, the blame for the Sorrentino-less situation McFarland has since found himself in can be pinned squarely on his addiction to attention and bending the rules.
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Dubious medical issues aside, McFarland’s petition for early release had already been knocked out of consideration by a significant disciplinary action when he was still at Otisville, dealt after he was found to have hidden a recording device inside a pen stashed in his cell locker.
McFarland, the prosecutors argued, initially lied, saying he’d found the recorder “at work”—he had reportedly been assigned to a sewage-treatment plant known as “the shithouse”—before admitting that he had brought it with him from the Metropolitan Detention Center, Brooklyn, where he’d been held for months after committing another set of felonies while out on bail for the Fyre fraud. (This time, it was a fake-ticketing scheme called NYC VIP Access, which netted more than $100,000.) McFarland’s hope for the contraband, it seems, had been to narrate a memoir he planned to title, with no apparent irony, Promytheus: The God of Fyre.
The infraction landed him in the Special Housing Unit, or solitary confinement, for 40 days, and, perhaps more worryingly, according to unverified reports, caused some of the other cellmates to suspect he might be a rat.
By then, the authorities were also starting to seriously doubt McFarland’s dedication to making restitution to the victims of the Fyre fiasco.
According to the government, none of McFarland’s self-reported $250,000 in proceeds for his participation in Hulu’s Fyre Fraud documentary, in which he gave exclusive interviews, ended up going to his victims. (The director of the film disputes this figure.)
“The defendant’s professed desire to use his earnings to make restitution to his victims is belied by his repeated efforts to exploit his criminal conduct for his own financial benefit,” the government noted.
With no apparent irony, McFarland plans to title his memoir Promytheus: The God of Fyre.
Fortunately, by that point McFarland was already set for transfer and a fresh start in the prison system. But things haven’t been going much better for him in Ohio. After recovering from the coronavirus, McFarland was placed in solitary confinement again in October, thanks to a new podcast he secretly helped launch from prison called Dumpster Fyre.
His confinement coincided with the release of the podcast trailer, and in the first episode McFarland yet again promised that proceeds from the project would go toward restitution for his victims. But something was different this time around. With Fyre, he was selling the festival. And with the documentary, he was selling his remorse story. Now McFarland wasn’t selling anything—he was the product.
Although he claims he owns 50 percent of the podcast, McFarland had partnered with Notorious L.L.C., a “global content studio and network” that also operates hype houses for Internet-popular teens and young adults in Los Angeles. When The New York Times reported that McFarland had been remanded to solitary confinement due to his participation in the podcast, Notorious C.E.O. Peter Vincer responded by posting a screenshot of the article on Instagram with the caption “#1 organic Google news article. Thanks @nytimes.” The next day Vincer noted that it was the “#1 podcast news story IN THE WORLD. Over Kanye. Rogan and everything else. On Google News and everywhere. Just the beginning …” McFarland was finally getting to see what the influencers he’d hired for Fyre felt like.
According to a now deleted Instagram post, McFarland spent months in solitary confinement paying for it. I haven’t heard from any of his cellmates since.
Meanwhile, at least one person involved with the Fyre Festival is currently turning a profit: Ja Rule, a co-founder of the festival. After selling a Fyre Festival NFT for $122,000, the rapper is now partnering on the auction of an NFT of a Fyre Festival tweet (the one showing the disgusting packed dinners awaiting scammed guests on arrival to the Bahamas). It’s estimated to go for $80,000 later this month.
Gabrielle Bluestone is a journalist and the producer of Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened. Her book, Hype: How Scammers, Grifters, and Con Artists Are Taking Over the Internet—and Why We’re Following, is out now from Hanover Square Press