By Tim Werth
You may remember hearing about the almost-laughable disaster that was Fyre Festival — a two-weekend music event that was slated to take place last spring on the island of Great Exuma in the Bahamas. While the event was plugged as a unique luxury festival that offered VIP packages for thousands of dollars, attendees quickly found out they had been scammed soon after they arrived; they were faced not with glamorous accommodations and five-star meals but with half-constructed tents, feral dogs, and heaps of garbage.
Now, the festival’s organizers — founder Billy McFarland and rapper Ja Rule — have been hit with a slew of lawsuits. And one of those lawsuits was just resolved when the plaintiffs won a $5 million judgment in damages.
Plaintiffs Seth Crossno and Mark Thompson filed a 47-page lawsuit against McFarland in May of last year. The suit went into detail about how the pair spent approximately $13,000 on luxury VIP packages to Fyre Festival, which was marketed as “two transformative weekends… on the boundaries of the impossible.” It certainly was. When the pair (and everyone else) arrived, they were immersed in a total nightmare. Crossno actually became one of the main sources of what went down in the Bahamas that weekend through his Twitter account; he’s also planning on starting a podcast entitled “Dumpster Fyre.”
Initially, Crossno and Thompson sued the festival organizers for $25,000 each. Although only 1% of civil cases ever reach trial in federal courts, this case has gotten a lot of attention. And after the case went to trial, the judge actually increased the damages. When McFarland failed to respond to the lawsuit against him, the judgment was granted in absentia. All told, each plaintiff received $1.5 million in compensatory damages and an additional $1 million in punitive damages. Although Ja Rule was initially named in the suit, he was later removed from the filing.
But McFarland has not been quite so lucky. In addition to several other lawsuits filed against the organizers, McFarland also settled civil claims with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission by admitting he defrauded more than 100 investors out of $27.4 million. He’ll be sentenced next month for two counts of wire fraud and could serve up to 10 years in prison. He was also charged in June for scamming at least 15 others out of $100,000. Some people never learn, apparently.
A documentary about the festival is set to air on Hulu next year, so everyone can soon enjoy the schadenfreude on screen.
Tim Werth is an analyst at Hubshout.
Stay updated with all the insights.
Navigate news, 1 email day.
Subscribe to Qrius