Billy McFarland petitioned for an early release on Tuesday over concerns that his preexisting health conditions make him particularly susceptible to contracting coronavirus amid the pandemic

By Dave Quinn and Lindsay Kimble
April 16, 2020 12:00 PM
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The 28-year-old Fyre CEO and founder — who is currently serving a six-year prison sentence after pleading guilty in March 2018 to wire fraud charges in connection with the failed Fyre Festival — petitioned for an early release on Tuesday over concerns that his preexisting health conditions make him particularly susceptible to contracting coronavirus amid the pandemic.

His plea for compassionate release was made through his lawyers to U.S. District Court Judge Naomi Buchwald, according to court documents obtained by The Hollywood Reporter and The Wrap.

In the docs, McFarland’s legal team describe their client as nonviolent offender, arguing that his alleged medical history of asthma, severe allergies, and heart issues would place him at a severe risk should he contract COVID-19 behind bars.

The lawyers say that McFarland should be released to home confinement instead, which they claim he would have been a candidate for beginning in 2021.

“Mr. McFarland is not a risk to the community nor a threat to public safety,” the letter reads, the two outlets reported. “The crime to which he pled guilty for was the non-violent financial crime of wire fraud. However, he is a low risk of recidivism for such financial crimes as he has explained that he has a supportive family that has attested to providing for his basic needs.”

In a statement to PEOPLE, McFarland’s attorney Robert J. Hantman said, “As reflected in his filing and his personal plea to the court, Mr. McFarland hopes to redeem himself and dedicate himself to satisfying his legal obligations. This can be done only if he is healthy and alive.”Continued Hantman, “Judge Buchwald is a tough, fair and compassionate judge and we are confident that she will look at our request with an open mind.”

McFarland pleaded guilty to two counts of wire fraud, effectively swindling over 80 investors out of a collective $26 million. He 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 — and also pleaded guilty to making false statements to federal law enforcement.

Mary Altaffer/AP

In their request, the attorneys also cite Tekashi 6ix9ine’s recent release from federal custody as a precedent.

Like McFarland, Tekashi’s lawyers had appealed for the 23-year-old rapper to be released because he suffers from asthma, putting him at a higher risk of getting severely sick from coronavirus since the illness can affect the respiratory tract. Tekashi 6ix9ine is now serving out the remaining four months of his jail term in “home incarceration.”

So far, McFarland has spent 22 months in jail, and nine months in the SHU (Special Housing Unit, or solitary confinement).

He is currently being held at the Federal Correction Institution in Elkton, Ohio, which Congressman Bill Johnson has dubbed “a breeding ground for the virus.” As of Wednesday, at least 36 inmates and 26 staff members have contracted the virus, with five inmates dying, according to The Beacon Journal.

Billy McFarland
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Since reporting to jail in October 2018, McFarland has apologized for his actions, opening up to PEOPLE in November 2018 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 said in an exclusive statement. “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.”

McFarland expressed similar sentiments in a long letter to Judge Buchwald included in his motion on Tuesday, according to a copy of the note obtained by TMZ, saying that the “justice system has changed my life.”

“The motion outlines the seriousness of the situation at FCI Elkton, the health risks that I’m exposed to by being here, and how I can contribute positively via home detention. However, regardless of your consideration of the motion, I’d like you to know the impact this situation has had on me,” McFarland wrote, in part.

“My thoughts immediately after sentencing couldn’t have been further from reality. It took me longer than it should’ve, but your message has come through,” McFarland said. “It’ll be a long road, but I can finally report, everything feels right. I’m living with a level of peace and acceptance that I lost in the events leading up to my arrest. I’m working harder than ever, in furtherance of a mission I truly know is right. I know that by living every day with the dedication of helping those I let down, and by doing it within the rules and regulations, I will slowly but surely continue down the path so I badly needed to regain.”

RELATED: After Fyre Fest, Ja Rule Has a Message to ‘Haters’ About His New Festival: ‘Get Your Tickets!’

It’s been three years since the ill-fated Fyre Festival.

Music fans infamously 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, with luxurious accommodations and extravagant meals promised as well as performances by the likes of Blink-182 and Migos (plus appearances by high-profile social media influencers including Kendall Jenner).

Instead, festival attendees touched down on the island and walked into chaos. Flimsy tents replaced the deluxe housing promised, while cheese sandwiches were distributed from the back of trucks as meals. Many of the artists had pulled out due to serious organizational flaws and ramshackle conditions. Worse yet, travelers were stranded there, sleeping in airport terminals waiting to get home.

The demise of the festival was documented in two documentaries, one on Netflix and another on Hulu.

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