UPDATED: Deputy Prime Minister Chester Cooper has released a statement regarding Billy McFarland, saying that govt will not endorse or approve any event in The Bahamas associated with him and he is considered to be a fugitive. (See statement left)
By EARYEL BOWLEG
Tribune Staff Reporter
FYRE Festival organiser Billy McFarland has planned a new venture, returning to The Bahamas to host a “treasure hunt” which will be the focus of an upcoming documentary, according to international reports.
US media outlet Deadline first reported Mr McFarland’s idea of returning to the country for a “treasure hunt”.
This comes despite Bahamians still being owed money from his previous venture - whose disastrous collapse in 2017 was detailed in documentaries on Netflix and Hulu.
As for this new event, Deadline reported: “This time, it’s all being captured up front for a feature documentary from The Invisible Pilot producer Ample Entertainment and distributor Fremantle.”
“After the Fyre follows convicted felon McFarland as he was released from prison earlier this year after pleading guilty to two counts of wire fraud and serving four years of his six year sentence.”
According to another outlet, MixMag, Mr McFarland is heading back to Exuma, the original site for the failed 2017 Fyre Festival, to launch “PYRT” which will “see participants take part in a treasure hunt where they track down bottles containing messages”.
However, Deputy Prime Minister and Exuma MP Chester Cooper told The Tribune yesterday he was not aware of any application before the government by Mr McFarland for any venture.
The 2017 festival’s collapse on Exuma was chronicled in Netflix and Hulu documentaries.
Mr McFarland was dubbed a “serial fraudster” and sentenced to six years in prison. He admitted to defrauding investors of $26 million in the festival, and over $100,000 in a fraudulent ticket-selling scheme while he was out on bail pending trial for the Fyre scam.
Elvis Rolle is all too familiar with the debacle as his business, Exuma Point Beach Bar and Grill, did catering for the failed festival. He said he has not been paid as yet.
“From the time they left the country, I haven’t heard nothing from them. Almost five, six years, whatever time it is, I never heard anything from them,” Mr Rolle told The Tribune yesterday.
As for Mr Mcfarland’s reported plans to return to Exuma, he said that people to whom he owed money just want to be paid.
“Once they get their money in their hands, they’ll be happy and if he wants to do the event, anything he wants to do in the country they have to go through the right channels with the government. Make sure everybody’s paid and pay this money down before he touches down in this country.”
He did not convey any malice about the most recent news of Mr McFarland’s possible return.
“I wouldn’t be against it but what I would like (for him) to do before he touchdown in The Bahamas is make sure to pay everybody off he owes and before he starts another event. Put money down before he does anything.”
Asked if he thinks the government should deny Mr McFarland due to failure to repay, the business owner replied: “Yes most definitely. If ain’t nobody get paid, what we need him for?”
Ivan Ferguson, a retired island administrator, pushed back against Mr McFarland coming back with his new plans.
“I am totally against Billy McFarland engaging in any more business in my country after the Fyre Festival fiasco, further his conviction in the United States disqualifies him from doing business here. We’re not a nation for sale, therefore we should not jettison the values upon which our nation was built,” he said.
Julian Marshall held a more sympathetic view of the situation and noted the effort Mr McFarland had made while acknowledging his errors.
“Me personally, I don’t have a problem with him trying to come back to do an event because I don’t really look at him as a fraudster or something like that, or somebody is trying to swing the people, right? Because number one, I think he had bad advice from the beginning,” Mr Marshall said.
“He just had the wrong people on the ground because he tried to do that show in Exuma during regatta which is a no-no, to start with. You got limited housing, you got limited you know car access, transportation, whatever.
“I think it was a good idea because that guy, he invested a lot of money. He lost a lot of money, because I know, people would have gotten money upfront, for probably housing. He invested a lot of money in food, because he left trailers of food, you know, generators.”
Mr Marshall said the venue chosen probably wasn’t the right fit.
“I don’t think he did enough groundwork to start, but you know, because I know a lot of those kids who came down, you know, they were kids from wealthy families and because a lot of them came to my business and they still enjoy Exuma, you know, and they weren’t accustomed to being bussed around and in those school buses.”