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Fyre Festival Organizer Pleads Not Guilty to Fraud Charges


Billy McFarland being taken into custody in June.

Liam Benten

Billy McFarland, the entrepreneur who became a lightning rod in April after his ambitiously marketed Fyre Festival devolved from a would-be luxury getaway into a jamboree of schadenfreude and cold cheese sandwiches, pleaded not guilty to charges of fraud in United States District Court in Manhattan on Monday. Mr. McFarland, 25, who was arrested and charged in June, is accused of misrepresenting financial information about his company to investors who paid him $1.2 million.

The Fyre Festival has transitioned from a morass on a tent-strewn beach in the Bahamas to one in the courts. In addition to the federal charges looming over Mr. McFarland, both he and his business partners, including the rapper Ja Rule, are facing more than a dozen lawsuits from unhappy customers. In August, the company that promoted the festival, Fyre Festival LLC, was forced into Chapter 7 bankruptcy by a judge after three investors sued to recover a $530,000 loan.

Mr. McFarland, who was released on bail in July, waived his right to be charged in an indictment by a grand jury. He may still change his plea at any time before trial, including as part of a deal with prosecutors to reduce his charges. If he is found guilty, Mr. McFarland could face a maximum sentence of 20 years.

His companies, including the millennial membership club Magnises, Fyre Festival and Fyre Media, which allowed customers to book his celebrity friends for special appearances, have all hinged on the promise of a taste of glamour — or proximity to it — for the right price. A pretrial hearing for Mr. McFarland’s case is scheduled for Dec. 13.

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