The founder of the disastrous 2017 Fyre Festival, Billy McFarland, on Tuesday requested an early release from prison, citing health concerns that put him at particular risk during the coronavirus pandemic.
In a filing obtained by TheWrap, his lawyers made the request to New York Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald and said that McFarland suffers from pre-existing medical conditions. They said he is not a threat to public safety, is at a higher risk of catching the virus and should be released to home confinement.
McFarland is serving a six-year prison sentence after pleading guilty to wire fraud in 2018. He’s currently imprisoned in the low-security facility E3lkton Correctional Institute, and his lawyers claim in the filing that at least 24 inmates and 14 staff members have already contracted COVID-19, with the prison’s warden and assistant warden both in the hospital.
McFarland said through his lawyers that he is confined to a large room with 140 inmates and that 30 of them have gotten sick and been removed from the unit. Several other non-violent prisoners across the country have been granted early or temporary release because of the virus, and McFarland’s lawyers argue that his pre-existing medical conditions make him an especially high risk.
“Mr. McFarland has informed us that he has pre-existing conditions that make contracting Covid-19 easier, and which increase his potential to suffer severe health issues and death if he does so, including being diagnosed with asthma as a teenager,” his lawyers said. “Further, he has informed us that he was diagnosed on the ‘extreme’ scale of the allergy spectrum, for issues related to breathing and his cardiovascular system, and that he has experienced heart issues since his early 20’s.”
His lawyers added that he is a non-violent offender and was considered a candidate for home confinement beginning in 2021.
“Mr. McFarland is not a risk to the community nor a threat to public safety,” the letter reads. “The crime to which he pled guilty for was the non-violent financial crime of wire fraud. However, he is a low risk of recidivism for such financial crimes as he has explained that he has a supportive family that has attested to providing for his basic needs.”
McFarland was initially charged in July 2017. According to the U.S. Attorney’s office, McFarland engaged in a scheme to defraud investors in the company Fyre Media LLC, as well as a related entity responsible for organizing the festival, which took place in the Bahamas.
The Fyre Festival famously imploded in April 2017, after patrons spent tens of thousands of dollars for the event, expecting a luxury getaway on a private island in the Bahamas, only for their private jets to touch down in what many described as a disaster area. Instead of plush cabanas, they were set up in “disaster relief tents,” and their gourmet food took the form of cheese sandwiches and wilting lettuce. The failed event caused a PR meltdown, several lawsuits and an FBI investigation.
McFarland then became the subject of two separate documentaries about the failed festival, including “Fyre” and “Fyre Fraud,” that examined the ins and outs of the scandal.