Fyre Festival promoter Billy McFarland appeared in Manhattan federal court this morning where he pleaded not guilty to charges of wire fraud and making false statements to a bank. The proceeding was the result of a June 30 arrest and criminal charges of defrauding investors in the ill-fated Fyre Festival Bahamian concert that was to have taken place in April and May. Cancellation of the fest, which delved into chaos as attendees began arriving on the island, resulted in addition to the criminal proceedings in several civil class actions investor suits.
McFarland, 25, waived indictment, which eliminates the need to convene a grand jury, meaning the case will proceed on evidence collected by federal investigators, compiled in a document known as an information signed by Acting U.S. Attorney Joon Kim. While the waiver signals a cooperative defendant and would typically indicate that plea discussions are underway, the move has no practical bearing on the case, which will proceed to trial. The government now has two weeks to present discovery to the defense, with the first pre-trial hearing is scheduled for Dec. 13. If an agreement is not reached between McFarland and U.S. prosecutors a trial can be expected to commence sometime during the first quarter of 2018. McFarland can amend his pleading at any time prior to trial.
The hearing took place before Judge Naomi Buchwald on the bench for the U.S. Court for the Southern District of New York on Pearl Street in Lower Manhattan. The proceeds were sparsely attended, due in part to the fact that it was calendared late last week, as well as the fact that opening arguments were taking place in the same building for the high profile “Chelsea bomber” terrorism case of Ahmad Khan Rahimi, which was packed and spilled into an overflow courtroom.
McFarland was attended in court by his lead counsel, Boies, Schiller & Flexner’s Randall Jackson, as well as the firm’s Karen Chesley. Representing the government’s case was Assistant U.S. Attorney Kristy Greenberg. Technically the government was required to bring an indictment against McFarland within 30 days of his arrest, a condition that can be extended by mutual agreement and was ameliorated by the fact that the defendant was free on bond rather than incarcerated.
Charges against McFarland include two counts of wire fraud – one for scheming to defraud investors through actions including falsifying emails – and the other scheming to defraud vendors. Two additional counts allege false statements to a bank.
McFarland’s Fyre Media business partner, the rapper Ja Rule (whose given name is Jeffrey Atkins) has not been criminally charged but is named as a defendant in several of the dozen or so civil cases.