The Fyre's Still Burning: Was Billy McFarland Secretly Involved In The Fyre Fest Merch Sale?
EXCLUSIVE

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For Billy McFarland, the man behind the Fyre Festival, it seems as though there's always another layer to the deception and grift. McFarland entered bankruptcy late last year and pled guilty to fraud charges in connection with the Fyre Festival in March, but his scams didn't end there. 

On Tuesday, soon after VICE News published an investigation into sketchy email offers for luxe vacation spots and VIP event tickets which appeared to be using an email list sourced from McFarland's past ventures, McFarland was arrested again on charges of wire fraud and money laundering.

Late last month, some folks started receiving invitations to a wholly different kind of exclusive event: an NYC pop-up shop claiming to have genuine merchandise left over from Fyre Festival. I attended the event and wrote about the experience, as did reporters from Buzzfeed and the New Yorker. Everyone who spoke to the event's organizer, a man who identified himself only as Chris, heard the same story about how the pop-up shop came to be:

Chris, a wealthy investor, purchased tickets to Fyre Festival in 2017, only making it as far as Miami before the disarray at the Bahamas-based event came to light. Just days before the date of the pop-up shop, Chris was made aware of a storage unit auction for the unsold stock of Fyre Festival commemorative merchandise. Chris won the goods at auction and set up the pop-up shop in order to make back his losses from the festival tickets, as well as promising to donate a portion of the profits to a charity he operates dedicated to building homes in Bangladesh.

From the start, Chris seemed hesitant to back up his version of events with evidence. When I asked him to give me more information about the storage unit auction and to provide proof of a donation to his charity, Chris declined to say anything more, stating that he wanted to avoid negative attention from the internet.

My account of the event, published the next morning, included a call for any tips that would help determine the authenticity of the Fyre Festival merchandise. Later that week, I received an anonymous tip that included Chris's last name, or last names: while Chris operates certain social media profiles under the name Chris Helmsley, his real name appears to be Chris Khan.

Khan, via his LinkedIn

Khan, via his LinkedIn profile. 

A Boston College grad and former employee of enterprise blockchain company R3, Khan's Facebook, Instagram and Twitter profiles reflect the luxe millennial lifestyle that the advertising for McFarland's Fyre Festival was designed to appeal to — expensive cars, Supreme apparel, flights on private jets. Chris's LinkedIn profile included a vague mention of charity work, but in using ProPublica's nonprofit explorer I was unable to find any non-profit that claimed Khan as a founder or employee.

What I did find was a history of Khan's enduring fondness for his membership in Magnises, the faux-Black Card/social club/"VIP" ticket-selling business that Billy McFarland started prior to founding the talent-booking company Fyre Media and planning its disastrous sister Festival.1 A yearly $250 fee promised Magnises members invitations to exclusive events, the opportunity to purchase discounted tickets to in-demand shows and unfettered access to a Magnises clubhouse in NYC — all this on top of a black card that cloned the magnetic strip from your actual credit card. Magnises attracted high-profile investments and was the first venture of McFarland's to receive serious media attention, much of it positive at first.

Magnises launched in 2014, and Billy McFarland was unafraid to cop to the physical card's seeming lack of significance as he developed the company's reputation, insisting that "it's about the people that have it." His appeal to "work hard, play hard"-minded millennials who wanted to network and party worked perhaps too well at the outset — Magnises operated their first members-only clubhouse out of a townhouse in Manhattan's West Village for about a year before the landlords sued McFarland and company over damages. The case settled in January of 2016.

Khan joined Magnises in its earliest days in 2014, posting a screenshot of his acceptance email to Twitter two days before Business Insider ran its first profile of the company. By August of the next year, Khan was invited to join the $1,000-per-year Magnises Plus membership level. Later that fall, Khan attended a dinner alongside other Magnises Plus members at Talula's Garden in Philadelphia during that year's Forbes Under 30 Summit.

 

One of Khan's dinner partners, Emir Bahadir, is an heir to a Turkish real-estate fortune who describes himself as an "entrepreneur and lifestyle connoisseur" on his website — Bahadir was named as an adviser to Magnises in a 2014 New York Post profile of Billy McFarland, and his own real-estate website names him as an investor in the company. Also pictured in the pile of Magnises Plus cards at Talula's is a card with the spaces for the membership number and name left mysteriously blank. When I contacted Bahadir over the phone, he acknowledged that he knows Chris, but said he did not know whether Chris knew Billy. Bahadir also denied involvement with Magnises (the company has been defunct since September of 2017). 

A 2016 article written by Jana Kasperkevic for The Guardian opens with an anecdote from Khan about missing out on a Magnises-organized trip to the same Bahamas island McFarland would later select as the site for the Fyre Festival. Khan goes on to speak glowingly of his experience as a Magnises member:

"After graduation it sounded like the perfect thing to be a part of. It's a network that you are paying for," he explains. When he is in New York, he attends at least two events a month and often uses the 24/7 live concierge services offered by Magnises to book restaurants and figure out where to go for coffee, lunch or dinner. "The cool thing about it is takes the guesswork out of your social life."

[The Guardian]

In the same article, Kasperkevic notes that "Most members that the Guardian interviewed, knew [McFarland] by name." By many published accounts of McFarland's involvement in the Magnises community, it seems extremely unlikely that an enthusiastic Magnises user like Khan would not have had the opportunity to meet McFarland.

Khan (left) and McFarland (right) at the Magnises Hotel on Rivington penthouse. 

I was able to place Khan and McFarland together at at least one event. On July 26, 2016, Magnises hosted a launch party event at its penthouse at the Hotel on Rivington in Manhattan's Lower East Side, intended to replace the old West Village location as the main Magnises clubhouse. Magnises had a photographer present at the event and posted the photos from the party on their official Facebook page. Khan is visible in several photos, including one placing him a few feet away from McFarland. This photo alone does not stand as proof of a personal or business relationship between McFarland and Khan — but it does make clear that, at the very least, McFarland and Khan ran in the same circles.

Having exhausted the extant social media profiles for Khan, McFarland and Magnises, I reached out to former Magnises members and to the two models pictured in Khan's announcement email for the pop-up shop, hoping to find out more about a possible connection between Khan and McFarland. None of the Magnises members who were willing to respond to my requests for comment socialized much with other members, and did not know Khan or McFarland. The pop-up shop models did not respond to my inquiries.

Meanwhile, I began looking into the intersection between Chapter 7 bankruptcy procedure and state laws governing storage units. Fyre Festival LLC was forced into bankruptcy last September, and in December McFarland was named as the responsible debtor. On the day of the pop-up shop, Polly Mosendz, a reporter for Bloomberg who has extensively covered the legal fallout of Fyre Festival, contacted the bankruptcy trustee's lawyer, who asserted that if an auction for these goods did take place it was in no way related to McFarland's Chapter 7 bankruptcy case. Assuming the story Chris told was true, and assuming the merchandise he sold had originally belonged to McFarland, I reasoned, several other points would need to be true in order for his purchase of the Fyre Festival merchandise to be legal.

In Chapter 7 bankruptcy, the debtor is subject to an automatic stay, which puts a halt to collection actions against the debtor's property. If McFarland kept the Fyre Festival merchandise in a storage unit, in order for the storage unit owners to auction the merchandise in the middle of McFarland's bankruptcy proceedings, they either would have had to take possession before the automatic stay went into effect or, for some reason, be granted an exception from the stay. That would require the storage unit owners to file for a motion of relief from the stay, which would appear in the court docket — we checked available documents via pacer.gov and were unable to find a motion of relief filed by a storage unit company. McFarland could have neglected to disclose to the court that the merchandise resided in the storage unit. Alternatively, the story about the goods residing in a storage unit could be a fabrication, or Chris's claims about the authenticity of the goods could be false. (Again, Khan declined to provide any record of the auction when asked.)

If, hypothetically, McFarland had possession of the merchandise and transferred it directly to Khan for the purposes of the sale, that could possibly violate bankruptcy law. Under Chapter 7, the debtor divides their assets into exempt and nonexempt categories, then forfeits the nonexempt assets to the bankruptcy trustee in order to pay off their debts. While ordinary necessities and other non-luxury goods could qualify as exempt for McFarland, it seems unlikely that McFarland would be allowed to claim business-related assets like unsold merchandise as exempt property. In the event McFarland did possess the merchandise and was allowed to keep it as exempt under Chapter 7, it is possible that a transfer of those goods to Khan for the purpose of a sale would not violate bankruptcy code. I reached out to Gregory Messer, the bankruptcy trustee for McFarland and Fyre Festival, and to his representatives in the hopes of finding whether the Fyre Festival merchandise was accounted for in the bankruptcy proceedings. They didn't respond to repeated requests for comment.

None of this stands as definitive proof of wrongdoing on Khan's part or on McFarland's. It's possible that some of what I uncovered is lacking in crucial context. It could be true that Khan was both a dedicated Magnises member and got burned by Fyre Festival, prompting him to seek out the merchandise and set up a legitimate, legal sale of the goods in order to recoup his funds.

When I published my initial article, Khan reached out in a friendly manner to correct an observation I made about his wristwatch. In that same email, he offered to show me proof of his Fyre Festival ticket. When I reached out again later to ask for evidence of the ticket and any further information to back up his claims about the storage unit and charity, Khan politely declined ("I'm going to stay out of the spotlight for a bit, but thanks for reaching out"). I emailed again to request comment on what I was able to collect on Khan's history with Magnises, the seeming consistencies in his story about the storage unit, and on the apparent absence of a link between Khan and a Bangladesh charity. At the time of publication, Khan did not respond to multiple requests for comment. Khan also locked down his Twitter and Instagram accounts after I reached out.

I also reached out to two of McFarland's lawyers, Tallen Todorovich (who stepped down the day after McFarland's most recent arrest) and Randall Jackson, in hopes of establishing the path the merchandise took from Fyre Festival LLC to Khan. No party responded to repeated requests for comment.

In my attempts to uncover a link between McFarland and Khan, one of the former Magnises members who never met Khan or McFarland mentioned that they, too, had received the pop-up shop email. Given the peculiar formatting used for their name in the email, the source determined that the contact information that the pop-up shop email list had perfectly matched the contact information they provided when they signed up for Magnises — in the new criminal complaint against McFarland, it notes that former Magnises members were targeted for emails from NYC VIP Access, the new venture that got McFarland charged with new counts of wire fraud and money laundering.

As I mentioned in my original article, two Digg employees received the announcement emails for Khan's Fyre Festival merchandise pop-up shop. At the time, we struggled to figure out why only those two employees were emailed, as neither could recall signing up for emails related to Fyre Festival. When I asked those two coworkers earlier this week if they had applied for membership in Magnises, both were able to provide emails proving that they had.

McFarland is currently awaiting sentencing on June 21 for the two counts of wire fraud he pled guilty to in March — both carry a maximum sentence of 20 years. We will update this post as more information becomes available.

1

Disclosure: In the spring of 2016, Digg ran a display advertisement campaign for Magnises. Digg never received payment for the campaign.

Mathew Olson is an Associate Editor at Digg.


Arizona Congressman Spells Out 'Epstein Didn't Kill Himself' With The First Letter Of 23 Tweets
WHAT ON EARTH?

· Updated:

The bleakest meme of 2019 has taken a new turn, as "Epstein Didn't Kill Himself" has jumped from random Twitter accounts and YouTube channels to the Twitter feed of a member of Congress.

Arizona GOP Rep. Paul Gosar — who has been at the center of a number of controversies over the years and even faced an opposition ad made by six of his siblings — plunked out 23 tweets over the course of Wednesday, all related to the first day of public impeachment hearings. Or at least, that seemed to be all that was going on, until some eagle-eyed Twitter users noticed what the first letter of each of Gosar's tweets spelled out. Scroll down, starting with the tweet that begins "Evidence of a link between foreign aid…," and read for yourself:


In case Gosar deletes the tweets, we saved them for posterity. And if you're still not seeing it, try this:


It's an undeniably bizarre moment — it's rare for a meme bouncing around the dark corners of the internet like this one to reach the halls of Congress, and even rarer for a congressman to deploy a meme in such a manner. But then, we're living in 2019.

Digg is the homepage of the internet, featuring the best articles, videos, and original content that the web is talking about right now. It's also the website you're on right now.

There Are Too Many Streaming Services. Which Ones Are Worth Your Money?
REQUIEM FOR A STREAM

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Disney+ launched this week, with HBO Max and NBC's Peacock soon to follow. With Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video already on the market, how can you choose between streamers? Here's a breakdown of each service's pros and cons.


Netflix

Essentially synonymous with the word "streaming," Netflix is still the big boy on the block. And you probably already have access via your brother's girlfriend's parent's account — at least until the crackdown on password sharing begins.

Price: $9 to $16 per month

Pros: You'll never see a commercial on Netflix, and the viewing experience is extremely user-friendly. But the biggest strength Netflix has to offer is its massive content library:

Even if Netflix were to lose all of its licensed content, the company has prepared by building a huge catalog of original shows and movies. Plus, now that they've poached just about every big name in TV from the floundering networks, including Ryan Murphy and Shonda Rhimes, they've essentially replaced the networks as the key provider of television content.

[TIME]

Cons: Netflix's price point is slightly more costly than other streaming services, although given its voluminous library, it's easy to argue Netflix provides a solid bang for your buck. That aforementioned library will soon lose some essential titles, however, as shows like The Office, Friends, Parks and Recreation, and The West Wing are heading for other platforms.

Verdict: How else are you going to watch Stranger Things?


Disney+

Following its debut on November 12th, Disney+ is adding A Whole New WorldTM of content to the streaming game. 

Price: $7 per month or $70 per year

Pros: With a price tag that's less than half of Netflix's premium plan, Disney+ offers outstanding value. And if you have children, Disney+ is nearly a must (plop your kids in front of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse while you stream The Mandalorian). The content is never-ending:

In year one, the service will have 30 original series, 7,500 past episodes and 500 movie titles. That includes Marvel films such as "Avengers: Endgame," documentaries from National Geographic and 30 seasons of "The Simpsons."

[CNN]

Cons: While the catalog is extensive, not every Disney title seems to have made its way onto Disney+ just yet:

The content on Disney Plus will be the deciding factor that makes or breaks the service. At the moment we can't seem to find recent blockbusters like Aladdin, The Lion King or Avengers: Endgame. If Disney waits too long to put their titles on there, Disney Plus will be left feeling more like an archive of movies past than a platform for current, hit content - but all signs point to that changing in the months after launch.

[TechRadar]

Additionally, the prospects for original content (beyond "The Mandalorian") remain to be seen:

Calling Disney Plus an essential streaming service feels a bit preemptive at this point as, without a strategy to fill the well with new content, the service is in real danger of running dry in a few month's time. 

[TechRadar]

Some users also reported glitches during the Disney+ rollout, with error messages and long load times leading to frustration:

Verdict:

$6.99 is a pittance to pay for such an archive, particularly when the appeasement of one's offspring is what's actually for sale; with Netflix as a precedent, raising prices somewhere down the line is a when, not an if, and we'll continue to oblige even once the sticker price is no longer falsely deflated.

[The Ringer]


Hulu

Price: $6 to $12 per month; $45 to $51 per month includes live TV

Pros: If you want to cut the cord but *not really* cut the cord, Hulu offers a live TV subscription and DVR at a reasonable rate. And now that Disney owns Hulu, you can bundle Disney+, Hulu, and ESPN+ together for just $13 per month ($5 cheaper than buying all three services separately).

Cons: Unless you purchase the premium version of Hulu, you'll get ads while watching, which could be a deal-breaker for some. And while Hulu was built on the back of TV shows, it's unclear how Hulu's catalog will change now that NBC and CBS, among others, are creating their own streaming services. Seinfeld, for one, will be moving from Hulu to Netflix in 2021.

Verdict: If you need the option of live TV or simply can't miss an episode of The Handmaid's Tale, Hulu might be for you. But given the uncertainty of Hulu's catalog, other streaming services might be better alternatives.


Amazon Prime Video

Lord Bezos, give me your content.

Price: Included with Amazon Prime membership ($13 per month)

Pros: You probably already have an Amazon Prime subscription, meaning you already have  Amazon Prime Video! If not, you're missing out on exclusive shows like Fleabag and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, plus archive exclusives like The Americans and Downton Abbey

Cons: The user experience can't match that of Netflix or other streaming giants:

Amazon's interface can be a bit unwieldy. It varies in style and usability from one device to another, with the best experience (no surprise) on its own Fire TV media streamers, while the execution on some smart TVs is less intuitive. The web interface for Prime Video is presented as a section within Amazon's online store, rather than its own, stand-alone experience. This can be a bit jarring, especially when you're trying to figure out how to search for a movie. The big search bar at the top of the screen is the right place, but it sure does look like you're about to search Amazon.com, not Amazon Prime Video. 

Amazon does not offer multiple user profiles for Prime Video, and its video recommendation engine isn't especially sophisticated. Complaints that it can be hard to find something decent to watch are not uncommon.

[Digital Trends]

Verdict: It's probably worth a subscription, unless you have an (admittedly valid!) moral issue with supporting Amazon.


HBO Max/HBO Go/HBO Now

Max and Go and Now, oh my! 

HBO Max: HBO's newest service is scheduled to launch in May 2020, reportedly at a price of $15 per month. HBO Max will have the rights to acclaimed TV series' such as Friends and The Big Bang Theory, and will be free for a lot of users — although sorting through who exactly is eligible for a free subscription may prove challenging.

HBO Go: Unlike Max and Now, HBO Go requires an HBO subscription through cable access or Amazon Prime. It's essentially a way for HBO subscribers to watch HBO content whenever they please. 

HBO Now: HBO's original streaming platform, HBO Now allows anyone to access HBO's library, whether or not they have an HBO subscription.

As of now, there are no plans to scrap either HBO Go or HBO Now despite the impending introduction of HBO Max. "Nothing will happen with HBO Go or HBO Now," an HBO rep told Fast Company earlier this year. "HBO Max will be a distinct offering. As a distinct offering, you would not automatically become a Max subscriber."

Still, it doesn't seem viable to keep both HBO Max and HBO Now around, especially at the same price point. But there may be reasons for keeping everything separate:

So why isn't the company simply rebranding HBOs Now and Go as HBO Max, moving everyone over and cleaning up its confusing mélange of streaming brands?

The answer: It would be an operational nightmare, and probably not even feasible in the near term given the company's obligations under distribution contracts for HBO products.

[Variety]


Peacock

Set to debut in the spring of 2020, NBC's ridiculously named Peacock streaming service will include virtually all of the NBC properties you've come to know and love: 30 Rock, Parks and Recreation, Cheers, Frasier, Saturday Night Live, The Office (in 2021, after Netflix relinquishes the rights). The most notable omission is Friends, which is instead heading to HBO Max.

The one thing we don't know is cost. Most streaming services land somewhere between $10 and $20, which seems like a reasonable price for Peacock, but NBC is reportedly considering making the platform free of charge (with ads, of course):

Previously, Comcast had planned on making Peacock free only to cable subscribers and Comcast broadband customers. The new plan, which is still under consideration, would be to give away the ad-supported Peacock streaming service to anyone who wants it. An ad-free product would also be available but will come with a charge, said the people, who asked not to be named because the discussions are private.

There may also be multiple tiers of Peacock to give Comcast customers and other pay-TV subscribers additional content or other benefits, said the people. But the cornerstone product will be free and ad-supported, for both cable and non-cable subscribers, the people said.

[CNBC]


Niche streaming sites 

If you just can't get enough streaming, fear not! There are plenty of niche services available for every interest. Here are a few:

  • Shudder: Owned by AMC, Shudder has enough horror and thriller content to satisfy your spooky urges. At $5.99 a month, though, it's probably only worth it if you're a horror buff.
  • Crunchyroll: Anime and manga. And it's free! (Ad-free requires a subscription).
  • Sony Crackle: A surprisingly decent lineup of movies and TV shows at no cost.

Dallas Robinson is a freelance writer living in Minneapolis

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