Fyre Fest Fraudster Billy McFarland Is Out of Prison and Back on His Bullshit With PYRT

In a TikTok posted on Oct. 24, convicted Fyre Festival fraudster Billy McFarland threatens a new business venture while standing in front of a whiteboard.

“You might have guessed I’m working on something new,” he tells the camera over a dramatic instrumental, pointing to a mishmash of circles and scribbles. With a mix of self-deprecation and dead-eyed earnestness, he continues, “This time, it’s a little crazier and a whole lot bigger than anything else I’ve tried before.”

The video was supposed to tease the 30-year-old’s “comeback,” as much as one can come back from something that never took off. After spending almost four years behind bars on charges of wire fraud, bank fraud, and lying to the authorities, he still owes more than $25 million for his Fyre fiasco, in which he scammed vendors, former employees, and stranded revelers who were left scrambling for shelter after a storm hit the Bahamian island of Great Exuma, the site of his supposed luxury music festival.

For Andy King, one of the event planners behind Fyre, the TikTok was nothing short of shocking. He says McFarland used similar language in a showy apology to the Fyre team right after the festival imploded in April 2017, blaming his lack of experience and naivete for bungling the event.

“Now he’s saying, ‘I’m back, I’m going to do it bigger and better!’ I’m like, ‘Oh, my gosh, that’s the speech you made at the end of Fyre to say, “It got too big, I didn’t have the experience. I need to start smaller,’” King tells The Daily Beast. “And then he jumped right into that. I just don’t know who is counseling him to be saying that kind of thing.”

In McFarland’s TikTok, his first since being released from prison in March, he admits, “Obviously, I’ve had a little bit too much time to figure this out, but I do feel like the moment is right to start making this up to everybody,” It seemed to promise that he’d accepted his fate, done his time, and was now ready to take a step back and do things right. But according to four people who have worked with McFarland before, during, and after his stint in prison, his time behind bars hasn’t dimmed his large-scale ambition.

“Unfortunately, he is up to his old tricks again,” says Eric Bratcher, an associate of McFarland who says the fraudster owes him close to $100,000 for his work this year.

Bratcher and another former associate say they’ve spoken to investigators from the Southern District of New York about McFarland’s current business dealings. The DOJ declined to confirm or deny whether it’s looking into McFarland’s current project, citing a general policy not to comment on ongoing investigations.

Bratcher met McFarland in May through a mutual friend. The 29-year-old former property manager started working for McFarland remotely from his home in Gainesville, Florida, doing everything from conducting business research to acting as a liaison between his boss and his remaining Bahamian business partners. One aspect of his job was helping McFarland type up his memoir.

“He’s been writing since he’s been in prison. A lot of it was handwritten notes that had to be changed into a more readable format,” Bratcher says, adding that the writing was grammatically incorrect and the pages were out of order, filled with arrows directing Bratcher to insert stories from another page. “I took it to two different typists and one said, ‘This is gonna be an astronomical amount of money.’”

McFarland claimed to have struck a million-dollar book deal with journalist and bestselling author Guy Lawson, Bratcher says, adding that the book’s proceeds were supposed to partially fund the new business. A source with knowledge of the situation tells The Daily Beast that no such deal ever existed.

Bratcher was also there for the genesis of McFarland’s new venture, PYRT (a seemingly Fyre-inspired way of saying “pirate”). The re-energized ex-con began promoting PYRT in October with a treasure hunt. According to one of his TikToks, he hid a clue in a bottle and placed it somewhere in New York City, one of 99 such messages that were set to appear “around the world.” The idea was recycled from the early days of Fyre, according to people who worked on the festival. The first bottle was found by TikTok user @araazuninvited, who declined to speak to The Daily Beast.

The prize, it turns out, was a trip to the Bahamas, where McFarland will allegedly host PYRT, which he described as a “VID/R,” or “virtual immersive decentralized reality,” a term he seems to have made up. McFarland has yet to go into detail about PYRT publicly, but according to Bratcher, the idea is to record content creators, artists, and celebrities as they hang out and make art in various locations in the Bahamas. Meanwhile, users who tune in to the livestreams can “tip” money to make certain things happen; kind of like a Twitch stream, but with multiple cameras and streamers all in one area.

“Like, you know, ‘buy him a drink,’ ‘chum the water with sharks,’” Bratcher says of the concept, giving examples of some of the ways viewers could chime in. “Another one might be, like, ‘ride on a jet ski.’ It’s going to be very simple things.”

Bratcher was all in at first. But little by little, McFarland’s half-baked idea started to sound more and more implausible. As his boss was courting wealthy investors and trying to gin up support on social media, he was paying little attention to the day-to-day aspects of running a business.

“I was supposed to go to the Bahamas for a month,” Bratcher says. “I had already canceled everything. All of a sudden, the day before, he says, ‘Oh, we decided against that. Maybe we’ll do this in November. I’m really sorry, I should’ve called you.’”

What followed was a back-and-forth that ended with McFarland telling Bratcher to speak to his attorneys on Oct. 17, according to Signal messages reviewed by The Daily Beast.

Meanwhile, McFarland is pressing ahead with his redemption tour, dutifully courting the media as he seeks to re-enter the world of entrepreneurship. His publicist pushed hard for a recent New York Times profile published in September, the article’s writer noted. And last week, McFarland sat down with the hosts of the Full Send podcast for an almost two-hour conversation where he appeared in good spirits and, perhaps more importantly, seemed sincere, admitting that he’s “guilty” and “responsible for everything” that went wrong with Fyre.

McFarland also claimed on the podcast to have “plenty of support from the Bahamas” for his new business venture. But 10 days before the episode dropped, Chester Cooper, the deputy prime minister of the country, called McFarland a “fugitive” and made one thing clear: “The Government of the Bahamas will not endorse or approve any event in The Bahamas associated with him,” he said, according to a letter published in the Bahamian newspaper The Tribune.

Cooper’s office, as well as the offices of the Bahamian attorney general and tourism board, did not respond to requests for comment from The Daily Beast.

That little fib, made in full public view, is just one sign that McFarland may not be acting above board. For Peter Vincer, a podcast producer and media consultant, the government’s response came as a surprise. Vincer started pitching a Billy appearance to the Full Send team back in May, according to text messages and Instagram DMs shared with The Daily Beast.

“It’s like, man, you told us you talked to people up and down, including the top lawyer in the country, and they said they would welcome you with open arms,” Vincer tells The Daily Beast. “It’s a common theme with him. He’ll tell you something with absolute certainty and it turns out it’s not that way.”

Vincer was also the one behind Dumpster Fyre, McFarland’s podcast of dispatches from jail. (The show fell apart in October 2020, after prison officers found out what McFarland was doing on the phone and placed him in solitary confinement.) The idea behind it was to set the stage for a comeback by having honest conversations about how McFarland could repair his relationships with his former business partners. Instead, freedom seems to have unshackled McFarland’s ego, according to Vincer.

“He didn’t really care about having conciliatory conversations or trying to rebuild his image first, which I thought was probably more strategic because he’s not very liked by many people, so no one will care about his new venture,” Vincer says of his work with McFarland after his release. “He’s delusional.”

It’s a common theme with him. He’ll tell you something with absolute certainty and it turns out it’s not that way.

Peter Vincer

It’s worth noting that Vincer drew experience from his own legal history. Last year, he was sued by a podcast host who claimed Vincer pocketed hundreds of thousands of dollars in ad revenue while working as his manager, according to a complaint and other court documents filed in federal court in Los Angeles. Earlier this year, Vincer also reached a settlement with former employees of his podcast network HiStudios, now called Notorious, who alleged misconduct ranging from open drug use to sexual harassment at a content house he ran in Beverly Hills.

Another looming character in McFarland’s attempted resurgence is John Taylor, a Florida-based financier who spent three and a half years in prison after he was convicted on one count of child sex trafficking in 2016. Prosecutors alleged that Taylor was a “client” who knowingly solicited a 15-year-old girl for the “purpose of engaging in commercial sexual activity,” according to court documents. Taylor and McFarland grew close while in prison in New York, according to Vincer and another person with knowledge of the situation who declined to speak on the record, citing separate legal issues. They say McFarland somehow convinced Taylor to give him about $700,000, which was partially used to fund PYRT.

“John was not flush anymore. He’d kind of lost everything,” Vincer says of Taylor’s first days out of prison. “He was living in a dingy motel in Florida. Now when you see John in New York—he drove up from Florida and was in a nice car and was clearly flush, and that was clearly priority No. 1 for Billy, convincing John to contribute a short-term loan for when he got his first media deal of the deals he was going to close in September.”

Bratcher says Taylor is the one who introduced him to McFarland. The three appeared to be working together just fine until some time in the fall, when McFarland abruptly cut Taylor out of PYRT and—just like he did with Bratcher—directed him to speak with his attorneys about the hundreds of thousands of dollars he’d invested in the startup, according to Vincer and another source close to the situation.

Taylor declined to comment when reached by The Daily Beast.

McFarland’s probation officer declined to answer questions about whether McFarland has violated his probation, which bars him from serving as director of a public company and stipulates that his earnings be garnished until he pays back his restitution.

Even so, McFarland seems to be a long way from launching an actually successful business. Almost everyone who spoke about him to The Daily Beast described him as “charismatic” or “manipulative,” but with a federal conviction, numerous documentaries and articles detailing his shady history, and a nearly $26 million restitution bill, it’ll be difficult to convince legitimate companies and investors to partner with him. His former associates see another storm brewing ahead with PYRT.

“I think he’s in a desperate place and is just acting out of desperation and doing all he knows,” says Oren Aks, a graphic designer who worked on Fyre Fest. “So it’s interesting to see who’s open to working with him.”

The question remains: After all we’ve seen of McFarland, why would anyone agree to work with him?

“I’ve always been taught that people deserve a second chance,” Bratcher says. “And it seems he had enough buzzwords to be able to pass my litmus test of, ‘Do you realize what you did wrong? Do you know how to change that?’ And the answers seemed legitimate enough.”

It seems he had enough buzzwords to be able to pass my litmus test of, ‘Do you realize what you did wrong? Do you know how to change that?’ And the answers seemed legitimate enough.

Eric Bratcher

Vincer, meanwhile, says he was drawn to the idea of a good comeback story.

“I was pulling for the guy,” he says.

It didn’t last long. Vincer says he cut ties with McFarland last month, citing “a lot of negative energy and deceptive-type dealings.”

“He was no longer humble, ‘I’m-in-prison’ Billy. It was more like a ‘Billy’s back’ kind of mood. I’d seen and heard of that Billy in the documentary, but I’d never seen it in my interactions with him, and it was kind of unpleasant,” Vincer says.

McFarland declined to comment for this story. His publicist, Michael Goldberg, sent The Daily Beast a trove of voice recordings and emails suggesting that McFarland severed ties with Taylor in September after discovering the true nature of his conviction, despite the fact that information about Taylor’s case is publicly available. Goldberg also provided emails between McFarland and Taylor’s attorneys. In them, McFarland’s team proposes to pay Taylor back for his $640,000 investment in installments of 5 percent of PYRT’s expected “gross revenue.” Goldberg further argued that Bratcher actually worked for Taylor and was never a direct employee of McFarland’s, though messages between McFarland and Bratcher make it clear that the Fyre founder had no trouble assigning him work.

King, the event planner who worked on Fyre Fest, says part of him still roots for the fraudster—perhaps a testament to the magnetic pull of his easygoing personality. Asked if it’s hard for him to see McFarland as a liar, King says, “It is. I don’t know, because for years I helped him. I got burned like everybody else.”

Based on his TikTok activity, McFarland is carrying on with PYRT as if everything’s fine. One recent video shows him treating a small group of people to a “zero gravity” plane ride, where the engine is cut off mid-air to give passengers a momentary sense of weightlessness, similar to being in space. It appears to be one of McFarland’s favorite activities, with the would-be impresario having previously boasted about it during his appearance on Full Send.

The video is somehow meant to promote PYRT, even if it looks like nothing more than a try-hard display of “cool” meant to get people to buy into whatever he’s selling. He pulled similar stunts while promoting his exclusive credit card Magnesis—a pre-Fyre idea—by throwing lavish parties in SoHo and Greenwich Village for its members. The tactic continued during Fyre, which involved more parties and paid influencers posing for sleek Instagram videos.

Now, it’s zero gravity plane rides and spray-painting Xs on public staircases in New York City as part of his treasure hunt. It may be a downgrade from endorsements by famous models like Emily Ratajkowski and Kendall Jenner, but it’s all part of the same scheming that landed McFarland in prison in the first place, according to his former associates.

“His character is who he is,” Aks says. “People don’t really change. Prison does affect you, but in his case, it seems almost like nothing changed. I see his online presence and he even sounds like a 25-year-old still.”

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