After tapping a handful of Insta-models, such as Emily Ratajkowski, Kendall Jenner, Bella Hadid and Elsa Hosk, to promote Fyre Festival on Instagram in December 2016, the music festival in Exumas, Bahamas was labelled a “hoax” and a “scam” late last month. The attempted posh take on Coachella caused a media storm after organizers left festival-goers stranded at the Miami and Exumas airports and failed to provide other accommodations, as promised in its pricey weekend packages, before cancelling the festival in its entirety after guests arrived.
Set to take place on a remote island in the Exumas on Fyre Cay, Fyre Fest was the brainchild of rapper Ja Rule and entrepreneur Billy McFarland. But the event – scheduled to make its official debut on April 28 and for which tickets cost between $1,500 and $250,000 – got off to a rough start as soon as guests began to arrive.
The festival grounds were littered with barely-erected, unfurnished tents and piles of trash. The gourmet meals that festival-goers were promised consisted of sad-looking cheese sandwiches. The guests’ luggage was thrown from the back of a truck onto the ground, and security was nowhere to be found when attendees began engaging in verbal and physical confrontations – before it was announced that the festival was cancelled.
And just days later, the multi-million-dollar class action lawsuits began rolling in. Here is a look at the suits that have been filed against the event’s organizers so far …
UPDATE (7/3/2017): 25-year-old Billy McFarland – who boasted the title of organizer of the Fyre Festival – was arrested Friday on a charge of wire fraud. He has been accused of using fake documents to lure backers into helping to fund the music fest.
McFarland faces up to 20 years in prison. He was presented before a U.S. magistrate judge on Monday, and was released on $300,000 bail. Investigators allege that McFarland lied and provided false documents to two individuals in an effort to secure a $1.2 million investment in Fyre Media. According to the Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s office, McFarland also lied to investors, claiming he made millions in revenue from 2016 to 2017, but he had earned under $60,000 from approximately 60 artist bookings.
McFarland’s lawyer told ABC News that when the case is over, “you will see he is hardly the villain the government portrays him as.”
1. JUNG v. McFarland et al (April 30, 2017)
The first class action lawsuit, which was filed by Daniel Jung against Fyre Festival and its organizers in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, alleges that “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.”
In his suit, which asserts claims of fraud, breach of contract, breach of covenant of good faith, and negligent misrepresentation and seeks upwards of $100 million in damages, Jung, who spent $2,000 on his Fyre Festival ticket and airfare, claims: “Festival-goers survived on bare rations, little more than bread and a slice of cheese, and tried to escape the elements in the only shelter provided by Defendants: small clusters of ‘FEMA tents,’ exposed on a sand bar, that were soaked and battered by wind and rain.”
2. Chelsea Chinery, Shannon McAuliffe and Desiree Flores v. McFarland et al (May 2, 2017)
On the heels of Jung’s suit, Chelsea Chinery, Shannon McAuliffe and Desiree Flores filed a breach of contract, negligent misrepresentation and fraud suit of their own in Los Angeles County Superior Court against Ja Rule and McFarland.
Not wildly different from the lawsuit that Jung filed, the subsequent suit makes negligence and fraud claims. It is noteworthy, however, as it speaks directly to the social media posts used to promote the festival, including those from Kendall Jenner, Bella Hadid, Hailey Baldwin, and Emily Ratajkowski, among other heavily-followed models and influencers.
While the lawsuit does not name the individual influencers as defendants, it certainly does place blame. As the plaintiffs’ attorney John Girardi told the Hollywood Reporter, the “social media ‘influencers’ made no attempt to disclose to consumers that they were being compensated for promoting the Fyre Festival.”
3. Petrozziello v. Fyre Media, Inc. et al (May 2, 2017)
On the same day that Chelsea Chinery, Shannon McAuliffe and Desiree Flores filed suit, festival-goer Andrew Petrozzielo filed a $5 million-plus class action of his own, citing violations of the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act, breach of contract, and breach of implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing.
4. Herlihy et al v. Fyre Media, Inc et al (May 3, 2017)
A day later brought another class action, which was filed by festival-goers Matthew Herlihy and Anthony Lauriello. Similar to the lawsuits that came before it, Herlihy and Lauriello’s suit centers on Fyre organizers’ “false representations, material omissions, and negligence regarding the ‘Fyre Festival’ and their failure to organize, prepare, and provide attendees with the experience that the Defendants marketed as being a luxurious private-island getaway.”
The lawsuit seeks upwards of $5 million in damages for Herlihy, Lauriello, and other attendees for “negligence, fraud, and violations of consumer protection statutes.”
Herlihy and Lauriello each bought $1,027 ticket packages, according to the complaint. Herlihy put $900 and Lauriello put $1,000 on wristbands that were supposed to be used instead of cash. Lauriello also alleges that his headphones, jeans, sneakers, and other personal items were stolen, as Fyre Fest failed to provide attendees with secure storages areas, as promised.
5. National Event Services, Inc. v. Fyre Festival, LLC et al (May 3, 2017)
National Event Services, Inc. (“NES”) has also filed suit against both Ja Rule Billy McFarland, along with their corporate entities, Fyre Festival, LLC. and Fyre Media, Inc., for breach of contract, fraud, and other related counts.
The lawsuit, which was filed in federal court in Pennsylvania, states that NES had contracted with the event organizers in January to provide emergency medical services for Fyre Festival, which was scheduled for the weekend of April 28th before being abruptly canceled.
The suit alleges that Ja Rule and McFarland did not obtain cancellation insurance (despite understanding that they had underfunded the festival), failed to ensure adequate infrastructure, and failed to pay either third-party vendors or the musical acts scheduled to perform.
When NES staff arrived to Great Exuma Island a few days before the festival kicked off, the company claims, staff members “immediately discovered that the accommodations were uninhabitable, including bug infestation, blood-stained mattresses, and no air conditioning,” thereby making NES’s performance of its contractual obligations “impossible.”
NES is seeking compensatory and consequential damages in excess of $250,000 and further punitive damages. It has also asked the court to hold both Ja Rule and McFarland individually and personally liable for the failed festival.
6. Reel et al v. McFarland et al (May 5, 2017)
Still yet, another multi-million-dollar lawsuit was filed against Fyre Fest organizers, this time in the Southern District of Florida on behalf of Kenneth and Emily Reel. The novel aspect of this lawsuit – which sets forth claims for fraudulent misrepresentation, negligent misrepresentation, breach of contract and violation of various states’ consumer protection laws – is the allegation that the defendants have threatened legal action against anyone who has complained about the festival on social media. According the Reels’ suit, Fyre Fest organizers have taken to sending cease and desist letters to individuals that posted negative messages on Twitter among other social platforms.
The Reels’ complaint states: “Specifically, if the social media comments were not taken down, the Defendants claim they could ‘incite violence, rioting, or civil unrest,’ with the caveat that if ‘someone innocent does get hurt as a result … Fyre Festival will hold you accountable and responsible.”
“Anyone who suffered damages from this fiasco needs to be made whole,” Jeffrey Backman, a lawyer for the Reels, said in an email statement to Rolling Stone. “The Defendants also need to understand financially that they cannot commit fraud and get away with it in the hopes of becoming legends. It’s one thing for a first time event to have unexpected issues. It’s something completely different when they (a) knew it was falling apart, (b) continued to pretend everything was fine, (c) threatened people who dared to expose what was going on, and (d) are now acting like they care about doing the right thing. Miami is the hub through which every concert-goer, vendor, and organizer went, so we fully expect this case to be heard and ultimately concluded in Miami.”
7. Seth Crossno, et al v. Fyre Festival, et al (May 9, 2017)
Writer Seth Crossno, or William Needham Finley IV, as he is known online, is the latest to file suit against Fyre Festival. His suit, which was filed in North Carolina state court, also names a Swift Air, the private airline company contracted to transport festival-goers from Miami to the Bahamas for the festival, as a defendant. The complaint asserts that Fyre Festival organizers, either “out of either arrogance or naivety,” continued to advertise it and sell tickets, despite knowing that they would not be able to deliver on their end of the deal.
Crossno, who provided live-tweets of the opening weekend of the failed music fest, and co-plaintiff, Mark Thompson, spent more than $13,000 on the festival, according to the lawsuit, and are now seeking upwards of $25,000 in damages in connection with claims of fraud, negligent misrepresentation, breach of contract, breach of implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, negligence, unfair and deceptive trade practices and conspiracy to commit fraud against defendants.
According to Crossno, “We didn’t get what we purchased and that isn’t right. You don’t get to put people in danger and issue an apology that focuses on how much better next year is going to be.”
8. EHL Funding LLC v. McFarlane, et al (May 11, 2017)
EHL Funding LLC, a New York-based financing company, has filed a $3 million suit against the Fyre Fest organizers, claiming that they have defaulted on their $3 million loan. EHL, which filed suit in Manhattan Supreme Court on Thursday, claims that it lent the multi-million-dollar sum to McFarlane and Ja Rule on April 10. The two parties had agreed that Ja Rule and McFarland would reimburse EHL with weekly payments spanning the next year, according to EHL’s complaint.
The festival organizers paid off the loan in accordance with EHL’s terms until just days prior to the festival. EHL alleges that it has not been able to reach McMarlane or Ja Rule since April 21, who still owe roughly $2.1 million.
9. Oleg Itkin v. McFarlane, et al (May 12, 2017)
New York-based investor Oleg Itkin has filed a lawsuit against the Fyre Fest organizers alleging that Billy McFarland misled him about the event’s expected revenue and thereby collected $700,000 from Itkin. According to Itkin’s suit, which was filed in New York state court, McFarlane showed his a projected income earning report that projected $932 million in revenue by November 2017 and personal assets of $31 million as of January 2017.
Still yet, per the New York Post, McFarland also allegedly boasted $4.2 million in advance bookings from top acts, such as Drake and Kendrick Lamar, which were never even advertised for the April festival.
Not only does Itkin want his $700,000 back, he also wants $250,000 in damages.
10. An FBI Investigation
In addition to the aforementioned lawsuits, Fyre Fest’s organizers are under a criminal investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the Southern District of New York (a federal court in Manhattan), and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, according to the New York Times. Federal authorities are said to be “looking into possible mail, wire and securities fraud” in an investigation led by “a prosecutor assigned to the complex frauds and cybercrime unit.”
“The FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s office have considerable discretion as to who and what to prosecute. They will gather the evidence, they will evaluate it, and then they will decide whether there’s merit to bringing the charges,” Nathan Hochman, a former federal prosecutor and partner at the international law firm Morgan Lewis & Bockius, told Variety earlier this month.