Almost one month after being sentenced to six years in prison, William “Billy” McFarland — the man behind 2017’s disastrous Fyre Festival — is speaking out. In an exclusive interview with PEOPLE, the beleaguered promoter, 26, opens up about his regrets and hopes for the future.
“I am incredibly sorry for my collective actions and will right the wrongs I have delivered to my family, friends, partners, associates and, you, the general public,” he tells PEOPLE. “I’ve always sought — and dreamed — to accomplish incredible things by pushing the envelope to deliver for a common good, but I made many wrong and immature decisions along the way and I caused agony. As a result, I’ve lived every day in prison with pain, and I will continue to do so until I am able to make up for some of this harm through work and actions that society finds respectable.”
In the spring of 2017, music fans shelled out upwards of $1,595 for what they thought would be a weekend of fun in the sun on the Bahamian island of Great Exuma. Luxurious accommodations were promised, as were performances by the likes of Blink-182 and Migos and appearances by high-profile social media influencers including Kendall Jenner.
Instead, festival goers touched down on the island and walked into chaos. Rather than the deluxe accommodations that were advertised, guests were provided with flimsy tents and cheese sandwiches distributed from the back of trucks. One person in attendance wrote on Twitter that there was barely “any food or water or security or electricity.” Many of the artists had pulled out due to serious organizational flaws and ramshackle conditions.
The demise of the festival led to serious legal repercussions for McFarland. In March he pleaded guilty to two counts of wire fraud, effectively swindling over 80 investors out of a collective $26 million. He also copped to two counts of bank fraud: one for a “sham ticket scheme” that sold approximately $100,000 worth of tickets to fictitious events, and another for falsifying a check by using the name and account number of one of his employees without their consent.
He also pleaded guilty to making false statements to federal law enforcement. On Oct. 11, a Manhattan federal court sentenced McFarland to six years in prison.
“Billy McFarland has shown a disturbing pattern of deception, which resulted in investors and customers losing over $26 million in two separate fraud schemes,” Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said in a statement after the ruling. “As he had previously admitted, Billy McFarland did not deliver on his promises to his investors and customers. Today, McFarland found out the hard way that empty promises don’t lead to jet-setting, champagne, and extravagant parties – they lead to federal prison.”
Along with his prison sentence, he will have three years of supervised release and a $500 special assessment. Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald also ordered him to forfeit $26,191,306.28.
Today McFarland remains resourceful yet hopeful. “I’m devastated, but accepting, and I’ll use this opportunity to live my apology and become the family member, friend, business person and good citizen I should have been all along,” he tells PEOPLE. “I’d like to thank everyone who has supported me every step of the way. Your love keeps me focused. Your hope keeps me motivated. Earning your forgiveness will fuel the rest of my days.”