The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has just announced that New York entrepreneur William Z. (Billy) McFarland, two companies he founded, a former senior executive, and a former contractor agreed to settle charges arising out of an extensive, multi-year offering fraud that raised at least $27.4 million from over 100 investors.
The SEC’s complaint alleges that McFarland fraudulently induced investments into his companies Fyre Media, Inc., Fyre Festival LLC, and Magnises, Inc., including in connection with McFarland’s failed venture to host a “once-in-a-lifetime” music festival in the Bahamas. With substantial assistance from Grant H. Margolin, his Chief Marketing Officer, and Daniel Simon, an independent contractor to his companies, McFarland induced investors to entrust him with tens of millions of dollars by fraudulently inflating key operational, financial metrics and successes of his companies, as well as his own personal success – including by giving investors a doctored brokerage account statement purporting to show personal stock holdings of over $2.5 million when, in reality, the account held shares worth under $1,500. McFarland used investor funds to bankroll a lavish lifestyle including living in a Manhattan penthouse apartment, partying with celebrities, and traveling by private plane and chauffeured luxury cars.
McFarland gained the trust of investors by falsely portraying himself as a skilled entrepreneur running a series of successful media companies. But this false picture of business success was built on fake brokerage statements and stolen investor funds,” said Melissa Hodgman, Associate Director of the SEC’s Enforcement Division.
The SEC’s complaint, which was filed in federal court in Manhattan, charges McFarland, Margolin, Simon, Fyre Media, and Magnises with violating the antifraud provisions of the federal securities laws. McFarland has admitted the SEC’s allegations against him, agreed to a permanent officer-and-director bar, and agreed to disgorgement of $27.4 million, to be deemed satisfied by the forfeiture order entered in McFarland’s sentencing in a related criminal case. Margolin, Simon, Fyre Media, and Magnises agreed to the settlement without admitting or denying the charges. Margolin has agreed to a 7-year director-and-officer bar and must pay a $35,000 penalty, and Simon has agreed to a 3-year director-and-officer bar and must pay over $15,000 in disgorgement and penalty. The settlements are subject to court approval.
The SEC’s investigation was conducted by James Bresnicky, Benjamin Brutlag, and Sarah Lamoree, with assistance from Sarah Heaton Concannon, and was supervised by J. Lee Buck II and Ms. Hodgman. The SEC appreciates the assistance of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York.