There are plenty of excuses for an event to not live up to the marketing, but while “the world’s best barbeque festival” might end up just being a mediocre gathering of grilling fans, asking people to pay $12,000 for an all-inclusive, luxury music festival in the Bahamas should get them more than school buses, cold cheese sandwiches and not a single performer. And that’s why it’s not much of a surprise to most people, including Del Mar defense lawyer Peter M. Liss, that the organizers of the Fyre Festival are being charged with fraud.
For those who aren’t already familiar with the disastrous festival, it was a luxury music festival in the Bahamas dreamed up by Fyre Media founder Billy McFarland and rapper Ja Rule that promised performers like Blink 182, Lil Yachty , Disclosure and Ja Rule, meals from celebrity chefs, models from across the globe, beach yoga, and more. Models and influencers such as Kendall Jenner and Bella Hadid promoted the event to the public. VIP, all-inclusive tickets cost an incredible $12,000 -which included airfare, luxury vehicles to transport them to and from the festival and eco-friendly dome accommodations. Alternatively, guests could spend $125,000 for all-inclusive group packages. Before the event, organizers started to warn guests that they couldn’t use cash or credit cards to buy anything on site, so they should put up to $1,500 on digital “Fyre Bands” to cover any incidentals.
Unfortunately, when guests began showing up in the Bahamas, they discovered their “luxury transportation” was actually school buses, their “eco-friendly domes” were actually tents previously used in FEMA disaster relief efforts, the “celebrity chef meals” were just cold cheese sandwiches and no performers, models or celebrity chefs were to be seen. It turns out the company was hemorrhaging money before the festival and the sale of Fyre Bands was just one of the ways they were trying to pull together enough money to actually keep things afloat. While the organizers have been offering refunds (or guests can choose free tickets to the next Fyre Festival scheduled for 2018), eight lawsuits have so far been filed against the company and it wasn’t long before the FBI and United States attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York both started investigating the company for fraud.
Most criminal attorneys in Mira Mesa will tell you that a lawsuit isn’t usually evidence that someone actually broke the law and that festivals and concerts always have disclaimers protecting them in case the headlining act fails to appear. But behind the scenes, it seems pretty clear that the organizers of this event didn’t just fail to live up to their many promises regarding the event, but that they actually committed fraud and never intended to deliver the experience they promised potential attendees.
Company emails show that the business spent far more time and money trying to market the festival -including paying up to $250,000 per promotion from influencers like Kendall Jenner, than they did trying to organize the music fest through logistics like sourcing accommodations, transportation, food, stages for performers, and paying for caterers and musicians. Many employees even expressed concern about the lack of organization prior to the festival, but heads of the company told them to not worry and assured them that things would fall into place in time.
Additionally, the organizers also appeared to defraud investors, claiming to have far more money than they had actually raised in order to convince investors of the profitability of the company and the festival. In fact, while attendees had many reasons to feel defrauded, the FBI and US Attorney’s Office decided it was easier to prove fraud against the investors in the company than fraud against the concert attendees. The financial documents provided to investors allegedly contained blatantly false information about the profitability of the company, which has formed the basis for their wire fraud charges against Billy McFarland, the festival’s main organizer. It would have been difficult to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that McFarland knowingly defrauded the attendees, but having concrete documents showing the organizers lied to investors about the profitability of the company makes for a much easier case.
If you are ever accused of fraud, please call Solana Beach criminal lawyer Peter M. Liss as soon as possible at (760) 643-4050 or (858) 486-3024. Do not speak to the police or other investigating agency without an attorney present. Remember that anything you say can be held against you.