Fyre Festival organizer Billy McFarland arrested for fraud, faces 20 years in jail

Billy McFarland, the co-founder of the failed "fiasco" Fyre Festival, which was meant to take place earlier this year in the Bahamas, was released on bail Saturday after being arrested Friday on fraud charges.

The tech entrepreneur was charged with wire fraud in connection to his digital company, Fyre Media, as well as for his botched luxe music festival that made headlines in April after attendees were left stranded in the Bahamas, according to the Manhattan U.S. attorney.

McFarland faces up to 20 years in prison. He was presented before a U.S. magistrate judge Saturday, and afterwards was released on $300,000 bail.

Investigators allege that the 25-year-old lied and provided false documents to two individuals in an effort to secure a $1.2 million investment in Fyre Media. According to the Manhattan U.S. Attorney's office, McFarland also lied to investors, claiming he made millions in revenue from 2016 to 2017, but he’d earned under $60,000 from approximately 60 artist bookings.

"As alleged, William McFarland promised a 'life changing' music festival, but in actuality delivered a disaster,” Joon Kim, the acting Manhattan U.S. Attorney, said in a statement. “McFarland allegedly presented false documents to induce investors to put over a million dollars into his company and the fiasco called the Fyre Festival. Thanks to the investigative efforts of the FBI, McFarland will now have to answer for his crimes."

ABC News reached out to McFarland after his arrest was announced but did not immediately hear back. His lawyer told ABC News tonight that when the case is over, "you will see he is hardly the villain the government portrays him as."

McFarland, a computer programmer and entrepreneur, blamed inclement weather for the festival's failure, and promised refunds and complimentary tickets to next year's event for those who planned to attend the April festival on the Bahamian island of Great Exuma.

Ticket packages for Fyre Festival reportedly sold for between $4,000 to $100,000 per person, according to those who bought passes.

"We had this mega-thing on our hands and we never thought it would take the life that it did, so we went out to build what we now know is almost creating a city out of nothing," McFarland, who co-founded Fyre Festival with rapper Ja Rule, told ABC News in May. "We had to install our own sewage and water. We bought an ambulance in New Jersey and drove it down to Florida, then took it over in a boat to get here."

Ja Rule, whose birth name is Jeffrey Atkins, was not arrested with McFarland. Previously, however, the tech entrepreneur told ABC News that the idea for Fyre Festival came when he and Ja Rule first went to the Bahamas.

McFarland said that the idea for Fyre Festival came when he and Ja Rule first went to an island in the Exuma Keys.

The Bahamas Ministry of Tourism said in a statement earlier this year that they were "extremely disappointed," about how the events unfolded "with the Fyre Festival," and added that visitors "were met with total disorganization and chaos."

Scenes of chaos played out on social media, as many festival goers turned to Twitter to post photos of the disarray at the venue.

McFarland explained that though they had sites built, "early Thursday morning a big storm came through and busted our water system and affected half of our housing tents."

"How we're solving this is, first of all guests have been taken home safely on planes. Next, everybody is being refunded for their ticket purchase, and everybody is getting a comp ticket to Fyre Fest 2018, which is taking place in May on a beach location in the United States."

McFarland added that the "Bahamian government was an incredible partner," but ultimately "the task proved to be too large for the short amount of time we were trying to operate under."

ABC News' Catherine Thorbecke contributed to this report.

© 2017 ABC News


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