- Thousands of inmates have been released from prison in recent weeks in an effort to curtail the spread of the coronavirus.
- Billy McFarland, the founder behind the infamous Fyre Festival, filed a request this week for early release from prison and instead serve the rest of his sentence in home confinement.
- In a letter to a federal judge, McFarland’s lawyers said he has pre-existing conditions, including asthma, that make him more susceptible to contracting the coronavirus and suffering worsened symptoms.
- The prison where McFarland is being held, FCI Elkton in Ohio, has been called a “breeding ground” for the coronavirus. At least six inmates there have died, and the prison is currently in a class-action lawsuit accusing it of not complying with public health standards and endangering prisoners.
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The organizer behind Fyre Festival, the failed music festival that dissolved into chaos and left hundreds stranded on an island in the Bahamas, has requested to be released early from prison due to the spread of coronavirus.
Billy McFarland has been behind bars since 2018, after pleading guilty to federal fraud charges related to the infamous event he set up a year earlier. In a letter filed Tuesday, McFarland is asking the federal judge who presided over his case to grant him compassionate release from prison and let him serve the rest of his six-year sentence — of which four years still remain — under home confinement.
McFarland’s lawyers argue that the Fyre Festival organizer is at a higher risk to developing severe symptoms or dying from the coronavirus due to preexisting health conditions. According to court documents, McFarland has “extreme” allergies and asthma, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said puts individuals at greater risk.
The request from McFarland comes just two weeks after rapper Tekashi 6ix9ine was granted early release from federal prison, the judge citing his asthma as a reason for him to serve the remaining four months of his sentence in home confinement. McFarland told the New York Post in a recent interview he was “not worried” about contracting coronavirus while in jail, but the petition for early release shows an about-face.
Tekashi 6ix9ine and McFarland are just two high-profile inmates who have appealed for early release due to the pandemic. R. Kelly, Martin Shkreli, Bernie Madoff, and Bill Cosby have all asked to serve the remainder of their sentences from home.
Thousands of inmates have been released in recent weeks in an attempt to stymie to spread of the novel coronavirus among prisoners, who are unable to practice social distancing and adhere to disease-preventing guidelines while behind bars. In the federal prison system, around 450 inmates and 280 employees have tested positive for COVID-19 as of April 15. Attorney General William Barr directed the Federal Bureau of Prisons in late March to prioritize granting home confinement to non-violent inmates who are at a low risk of recidivism to limit the spread of the disease.
The federal prison where McFarland is serving his jail sentence — FCI Elkton, a low-security prison in Ohio — has been hit particularly hard, and was cited as one of the institutions given priority in granting inmates’ early release. As of Thursday, at least six inmates there have died and more than 39 others have tested positive for the coronavirus.
Elkton’s inability to deal with the disease has led to protests outside the prison walls, and the Ohio National Guard has since been deployed to deal with the outbreak. Bill Johnson, a US congressman representing Ohio, called Elkton “a breeding ground” for the disease.
The conditions inside the prison are reportedly dire. In a recent Facebook Live video obtained by Vice, an inmate inside the prison gave an emotional account, saying the authorities were “literally leaving us in here to die.” In his plea for release, McFarland said he’s unable to quarantine, and is instead “confined” to a room with more than 100 other inmates who could already be exposed. The ACLU of Ohio filed a class-action lawsuit against Elkton on Monday on behalf of multiple prisoners who feared for their safety.
McFarland has served 22 months behind bars so far, including a three-month stint in solitary confinement in July 2019, according to the letter he penned to the judge in his appeal for release. McFarland said he was sent to solitary confinement after guards found him with a USB drive that he was using to help him write a “self-reflection book.”
McFarland wrote that his time in solitary was “the worst months of [his] life,” but that it helped him to realize the error in his ways.
“I believe I need to write you a letter outlining the person behind the motion you’re considering, who I’ve come to be, and how the justice system has changed my life,” McFarland wrote. “The SHU woke me up. It helped me see the truth. It was singlehandedly the best thing to happen to me.”
If released, McFarland would spend the length of his home confinement at a residence owned by a “close friend” in Manhattan that’s big enough to comply with quarantine guidelines, according to court documents.
The sentence handed down to McFarland in October 2018 also orders him to forfeit $26 million. McFarland’s lawyers wrote in his release request that he has “independent earning potential” due to novel, a memoir, and a “podcast hosting job.”
His lawyers also claim he has “a pending deal with a major streaming service where Mr. McFarland will be interviewed for a substantial fee” — although it’s unclear whether that’s different from the one he made with Hulu for its 2019 documentary, “Fyre Fraud,” for which McFarland reportedly asked for $250,000.
Both Hulu and Netflix released documentaries last year about the events surrounding Fyre Festival. The event, organized by McFarland and rapper Ja Rule, was billed as a luxury music festival in 2017 featuring tons of influencers and partying on sandy beaches in the Bahamas. The event was a disaster, and attendees — who paid anywhere from $1,200 to $12,000 per ticket — were met with chaos, confusion, and views that looked nothing like what the promo material promised. “Fyre Festival” has since become a catch-all term for tons of failed events.
Read below for Billy McFarland’s letter to the judge where he pleads for early release: