Billy McFarland, who co-founded the Fyre Festival event on the island of Exuma in The Bahamas with rapper Ja Rule, has been arrested and charged with fraud.
The organisers are also being sued for $100m.
The luxury festival, scheduled for 28–30 April and 5–7 May, had been billed as a “cultural moment created from a blend of music, art and food”.
Instead, ticket-holders were left stranded on the island with very basic food and makeshift accommodation. The event was finally cancelled.
McFarland, 25, allegedly presented fake documents to attract over a million dollars of investment into his company, Fyre Media.
Acting United States Attorney Joon H. Kim’s office said McFarland misrepresented the company’s finances, saying that the company earned millions of dollars in revenue from booking artists between July 2016 and April 2017. Kim said that, in reality, Fyre Media earned less than $60,000 in revenue from approximately 60 artist bookings. If convicted, McFarland faces up to 20 years in prison.
The organisers and their social media influencers had promised acts including Blink 182, Skepta, Migos and Disclosure.
Many ticket-holders took to social media to complain of inadequate food, water and accommodation. One tweet from William N. Finlev IV @WNFIV said: ‘Fyre Fest is a complete disaster. Mass chaos. No organization. No one knows where to go. There are no villas, just a disaster tent city’.
— William N. Finley IV (@WNFIV) April 28, 2017
Another stranded ticket holder told BBC’s Newsbeat the event was the “biggest scam ever”.
“It was truly the worst 27 hours of my life,” said Lamaan El Gallal.
“They had instructed us not to bring any cash with us. Everything was inclusive and we had bands where we put money. But without cash, it was a huge problem.”
Fyre Festival had been promoted by influencers including Kendall Jenner, Bella Hadid and Emily Ratajkowski. Jenner, according to The Verge, was paid at least $250,000 to promote the event.
Ticket holders were subsequently promised refunds.
Ja Rule, the co-organiser, has not been arrested.
McFarland has since been released on $300,000 bail.
A tweet from the Fyre Festival said: “#FyreFestival is a dream & vision we poured our hearts & souls into creating, 2017 fell dramatically short of even modest expectations”.