Supermodels including Kendall Jenner, Bella Hadid, Elsa Hosk and Emily Ratajkowski, are potentially steps away from facing demands to return sizeable payments they received for helping to promote the ill-fated Fyre Festival.
On Monday, a New York bankruptcy judge signed off on subpoenas submitted by the trustee overseeing the bankruptcy of the Bahamas music festival, which collapsed in chaos and discord before it had even got under way last April, requesting “information regarding the [Fyre Media’s] financial affairs from third parties”.
That is likely to include Jenner, who, as a leading fashion “influencer” was reportedly paid $250,000 for a single Instagram post announcing the launch of ticket sales and offering her followers a discount code, and model management firms IMG Models and DNA Model Management, which represent many of about 25 models who were paid to star in promotional video for what was billed as an exclusive weekend event with gourmet food, luxury accommodations and world-class concerts.
Festival-goers, who had paid between $1,000 and $12,500 for a ticket, found little by way of entertainment or cavorting supermodels for company on the Exumas island that had reputedly been once owned by Colombian cocaine lord Pablo Escobar.
As two documentaries released this month have graphically, and sometimes hilariously depicted, the festival’s accommodations were rain-soaked refugee tents and the food little more than grim-looking cheese sandwiches. To make matters worse, festival goers had no means of getting home.
In the fallout, festival organiser Billy McFarland pleaded guilty to wire fraud charges relating to the festival and in July pleaded guilty to various fraud charges stemming from a separate ticket selling operation, and sentenced to six years in federal prison.
A separate civil lawsuit naming McFarland and rapper Ja Rule, whose real name is Jeffrey Atkins, brought by festival goers Matthew Herlihy and Anthony Lauriello claims the two men “knowingly lured attendees with false and fraudulent pretenses, in which the festival could not compare to”.
They claim the event bore no resemblance to the event conjured up by Fyre’s “glossy” marketing and was instead an “unplanned, unorganized, disaster-stricken area” that organizers continued promoting until the day some of the 7,000 expected attendees began to arrive on the island.
But any efforts to reclaim money from the women who signed on to promote the event may be hard-won. Despite a crackdown in 2017 by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) that warned celebrities and influencers must be clear about when their posts have been paid for, they cannot be held responsible for the product or event itself.
The Manhattan US attorney Geoffrey Berman released a statement saying investors and customers lost about $26m in the scam.
At the hearing this week, Gregory Messer, the trustee overseeing the bankruptcy of Fyre Media, said the task of unpicking exactly what had gone wrong had been “challenging” considering the lack of basic disclosures, bankruptcy schedules and a statement of financial affairs from the organisers.
According to Women’s Wear Daily, payments totaling more than $5.2m were paid out to multiple recipients, including $1.2m to IMG models and $275,000 to Jenner.
Of the 24 people in question, Fyre Media paid each one no less than $90,000. Messer said the recipients are needed for questioning “to gain a full understanding of the reasons for these transfers”.
But while the supermodels were warned away from the event as it began to collapse, some were quick to apologise – and to establish that they had nothing to do with the failure.
Bella Hadid shared on Twitter, “even though this was not my project what so ever” she “initially trusted this would be an amazing & memorable experience for all of us”.
She continued she was “not knowing about the disaster that was to come…I feel so sorry and badly because this is something I couldn’t stand by, although of course if I would have known about the outcome, you would have all known too. I hope everyone is safe and back with their families and loved ones…xo.”