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Hundreds Of Fyre Festival Ticket Holders Poised To Win Payout In Class-Action Suit

Billy McFarland, pictured leaving federal court in March 2018, was sentenced to six years in prison after pleading guilty to fraud charges related to the failed Fyre Festival. Ticket holders and event organizers reached a settlement in a class-action suit this week.
Mark Lennihan
Billy McFarland, pictured leaving federal court in March 2018, was sentenced to six years in prison after pleading guilty to fraud charges related to the failed Fyre Festival. Ticket holders and event organizers reached a settlement in a class-action suit this week.

Attendees of the infamous Fyre Festival didn't exactly get what they paid for in 2017, when they arrived in the Bahamas for a luxury music festival only to find themselves stranded without basic provisions, let alone first-class accommodations.

Some four years later, hundreds of ticket holders are poised to receive more than $7,000 each after settling a class-action lawsuit with event organizers.

The settlement was reached Tuesday in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in the Southern District of New York, court documents show, with an early May deadline to object. The plaintiff is named as Gregory Messer, the Chapter 7 trustee of the estate of Fyre Festival LLC.

It adds up to $2 million, and was announced as part of the festival's ongoing bankruptcy proceedings. As it stands, the New York Times reports, 277 ticket holders will each receive a payout of $7,220, with an approval hearing scheduled for May 13. (The exact amount of the payout may change depending on how ongoing bankruptcy proceedings progress.)

"Billy [McFarland] went to jail, ticket holders can get some money back, and some very entertaining documentaries were made," Ben Meiselas, a partner at California-based Geragos & Geragos who represented the ticket holders, told the Times. "Now that's justice."

Indeed, the 2017 festival-that-wasn't has left a trail of lawsuits, criminal charges and dramatic documentaries in its wake.

McFarland, who organized and promoted the event, pled guilty in 2018 to two counts of wire fraud related to the festival. He was sentenced to six years in prison and three on probation for engaging in what prosecutors described as "multiple fraudulent schemes" and making false statements to law enforcement.

McFarland and his company, Fyre Media, have faced some dozen lawsuits in the festival's aftermath. As NPR reported in 2018:

McFarland had hawked a "life-changing," paradisiacal music festival for well-heeled patrons intended to take place in the Bahamas in late April and early May 2017. Instead, the festival — which carried ticket prices of up to $12,000 apiece — collapsed in chaos, launching a parade of #dumpsterfyre jokes and scads of schadenfreudic social media commentary, as hopeful festival-goers and vendors alike realized that they had been bilked.

Organizers offered an apology in the immediate wake of the event, admitting it "fell dramatically short of even the most modest expectations" and providing a form attendees could fill out to apply for a refund.

But for many, a refund was not enough.

The original class-action suit was filed in April 2017 against Fyre Media, McFarland and rapper Ja Rule, who was advertised as the festival's co-founder, and sought $100 million in damages. The plaintiff is named as Daniel Jung, acting individually and as a representative of "a class of similarly-situated persons."

The 21-page complaint said refunds were inadequate, writing, "Class Members' damages in being lured to a deserted island and left to fend for themselves — a situation tantamount to false imprisonment — exceed the face value of their ticket packages by many orders of magnitude."

It accuses organizers of knowingly lying about the festival's accommodations and safety, reaching out to celebrities and performers to discourage them from coming while continuing to sell ticket packages, which started at $1,200.

The festival was promoted — including by many social media influencers — as a posh musical festival on a private island once owned by drug kingpin Pablo Escobar, complete with luxurious accommodations and first-class culinary experiences.

Instead, attendees arrived to find unsecured FEMA tents, widely panned food rations and no festival or medical staff to offer assistance. The island was neither private nor formerly owned by Escobar, attorneys noted.

"The festival's lack of adequate food, water, shelter and medical care created a dangerous and panicked situation among attendees — suddenly finding themselves stranded on a remote island without basic provisions — that was closer to 'The Hunger Games' or 'Lord of the Flies' than Coachella," they wrote, adding that efforts to escape were hampered by attendees' reliance on organizers for transportation and the fact that the event had been billed as "cashless."

Several other lawsuits involving the failed festival have been settled already.

In 2018, a North Carolina judge awarded $5 million in damages to two attendees who had sued McFarland; Ja Rule was initially named in that suit but was removed from the claim after settling with the two. And last May, Kendall Jenner agreed to pay $90,000 for promoting the festival in a social media post.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Rachel Treisman (she/her) is a writer and editor for the Morning Edition live blog, which she helped launch in early 2021.