Billy McFarland, the creator of the infamous Fyre Festival who served nearly four years in prison for fraud and lying to the FBI, is facing a new civil lawsuit claiming he ripped off an investor who gave him $740,000 for his new PYRT venture.
In a summons filed in New York Supreme Court on Tuesday (Oct. 17), an attorney for 54-year-old Jonathan Taylor of New York — who met McFarland while both were serving prison sentences at Elkton Federal Correctional Institute in Ohio, as reported previously by Billboard – states that McFarland needs to appear in court and agree to repay Taylor or face legal action for civil fraud, conversion, civil conspiracy, breach of contract and unjust enrichment.
According to the summons, Taylor struck an agreement with McFarland and his business partner, Michael Falb (also named as a defendant), in which they allegedly offered him one-third equity in the venture, PYRT Technologies, in exchange for a $740,000 investment. Taylor claims McFarland and Falb then reneged on the deal by refusing to grant him the equity they promised or to return the money despite his demands that they do so.
Taylor is asking for monetary damages in the amount of $740,000, along with statutory damages, punitive damages and attorneys’ fees.
Notably, the $740,000 figure is $100,000 more than what Taylor had said he was owed last October, in emails between McFarland’s lawyer and Taylor’s lawyer that were obtained by Billboard. Taylor now says that the increase is the result of an investigation conducted by Taylor’s attorney, which found $100,000 in new charges using Taylor’s money since the men first began settlement talks in September 2022.
McFarland did not respond to requests for comment on the summons.
In 2016, Taylor landed at Elkton Federal Correctional Institute after pleading guilty to a single count of child sex trafficking stemming from his relationship with a 15-year-old prostitute in Florida. Taylor, who is 23 years older than McFarland, struck up a friendship with the festival founder shortly after McFarland arrived at the low-security prison following his expulsion from a minimum-security prison in Otisville, N.Y., for contraband violations.
Taylor and McFarland shared an affinity for entrepreneurship and stayed in touch after Taylor was released from prison in 2020 with plans to work together. Their first project — a podcast about McFarland’s life in prison recorded from behind bars — landed McFarland in solitary confinement for six months. It was during that half-year stretch in “the hole” that McFarland wrote out a 50-page investor deck — obtained by Billboard — of how he would harness continued interest in Fyre Fest and launch PYRT, a post-prison project to repair his image and “make the impossible happen.”
The PYRT document indicates that McFarland planned to officially launch the project with a treasure hunt revealed through hidden clues in a memoir he would publish telling his side of the Fyre Fest story. The global treasure hunt was intended to draw people to the Bahamas, to be followed by the building of the physical and digital architecture for a 24-villa PYRT Cay development. Eventually, he wrote, a metaverse would be built around PYRT allowing millions of “elevated people” to digitally interact with the island paradise, “changing how the virtual interacts with and affects the real world.”
After McFarland was released from solitary confinement in April 2021, he sent the plan to Taylor, who transferred money to McFarland and Falb and gave McFarland access to debit cards and accounts.
But on Sept. 20, 2022, McFarland wrote to his attorney, Harlan Protass, alleging that Taylor had misrepresented his criminal charges to McFarland when the men became friends in prison and alleged that McFarland had only recently learned about the true nature of Taylor’s crimes.
“I am uncomfortable having any association with Mr. Taylor,” McFarland wrote in the email, obtained by Billboard. “After receiving the documents from his attorneys on Saturday, I acted swiftly and scheduled a meeting with Mr. Taylor on Monday. I proceeded to meet with him yesterday (Monday) and I notified him that we must sever ties.”
At the end of the meeting, Taylor demanded the repayment of the money he had paid to McFarland, but McFarland explained that the money had already been spent, according to an email from Taylor to his attorney obtained by Billboard.
In the same email exchange, Taylor revealed that the payment made to McFarland was tied to a number of unfinished projects McFarland had offered as collateral for the loan, including a memoir of McFarland’s life, a documentary on McFarland’s efforts to launch PYRT and a proposed celebrity boxing match between McFarland and his former business partner,.
On Oct. 27, lawyers for McFarland offered to pay Taylor $1 million to buy out his equity interest in PYRT by making “payments in the amount of 5% of its gross revenues up to $1 million,” wrote McFarland attorney Craig Effrain in a document obtained by Billboard.
Taylor rejected the offer and demanded the immediate repayment of what he then said was a $640,000 loan plus $5 million paid out over a two-year period, according to copies of email communications.
McFarland didn’t respond to the counteroffer and stopped responding to communications from Taylor’s attorneys, emails from Taylor to his attorney show.
In July, McFarland took to TikTok to announce that he was pausing the PYRT concept to form a new LLC, Fyre Holdings, for Fyre Fest 2. In July, he emailed potential investors announcing that he was looking to raise $2 million.
“I’m a master at raising the tide, and I’ve already created a tidal wave,” he wrote in the July 6 email obtained by Billboard. “As demonstrated throughout history, the business opportunity is to steer our ship dead center into the wave and use its push to conquer the market.”