One of the owners of a Miami production company hired by Fyre Festival to provide staging, light and sound for the failed event says he can’t get $10 million worth of equipment out of the Bahamas. Unless the event’s organizers pay a hefty customs bill, he’s concerned the Bahamian government will auction off the equipment to cover it.
In an interview with Amplify, Unreal-Systems co-owner Luca Sabatini said officials want Fyre organizers Ja Rule and Billy McFarland to come up with the $390,000 they owe to customs for various goods imported to the island, including food, alcohol and the equipment needed to build the festival site. But because the import tariffs have yet to be paid, the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism won’t allow Sabatini to ship the equipment back to Florida.
The leaves Sabatini on the hook for all of the audio, visual, lighting and staging equipment that is still in the Bahamas. Some of it doesn’t belong to Unreal-Systems; it’s equipment the company rented from others to help put on the show, including the entire festival stage. The mobile stage unit, Sabatini said, is top-of-the line and in demand around the country — so the fact that it can’t be used at other shows right now is costing a lot of people time and money.
“We understand the gravity of the situation,” Sabatini said, but “we are losing everything.”
Sabatini said he’s incurring late fees from the companies he rented equipment from. What’s more, he can’t use his own equipment to do other jobs until everything is released by the government.
Another Miami company, Eventstar, has tents being held by officials that had been shipped there for festival use. A woman who answered the phone at Eventstar told Amplify the company was declining to comment on the situation.
Sabatini now fears the government will officially seize the staging equipment and take steps to start selling it off to cover the unpaid customs fees and other debts racked up by festival organizers, including permit fees, vendor payments and money promised to locals. Bahamian homeowners who rented out their homes to production staff have yet to be paid, Sabatini said, nor have laborers who worked to prepare for the festival a month prior to the event itself.
Ministry of Tourism officials did not return a call from Amplify seeking comment. Festival organizers have said they had to import many items because the Exumas lacked the infrastructure needed to put on the show.
On April 30, ABC News reported that a private security team had been sent to the island by customs officials to keep an eye on equipment and other items still on the island.
The Ministry of Tourism told ABC: “Customs has the area on lockdown because [festival organizer] Billy [McFarland] has not paid customs duty taxes on the items that he imported” for the event. “He and his staff have left the items with a security company guarding it.”
Sabatini said he believes Bahamian officials have every right to expect Ja Rule and McFarland to pay the taxes, vendors and people they owe. Regardless, he wants his equipment back.
“The government 100 percent here has to make sure their people on the island are paid and the customs bill is paid,” he said.
Ja Rule and McFarland had created the Fyre Festival in part to drum up excitement for booking app Fyre Media. Fyre Festival had been billed as a high-end, exclusive festival on a private island, with ticket packages ranging between $1,500 and $250,000. Major acts like Blink-182, Disclosure, Kaytranada, Migos, Rae Sremmurd, Tyga, Desiigner, Pusha T and Major Lazer signed on.
But when festival guests started to arrive, they found conditions that were starkly different from the paradise they were promised. There were disaster-relief tents set up for shelter, rationed food, no medical care, scarce electricity and little to no help or information from festival staff. In the weeks that followed the doomed event, eight lawsuits have been filed against Fyre Festival organizers, including a $100 million class action lawsuit.
Sabatini said he and his attorneys are working with the government to resolve the issue and considers himself one of many victims Ja Rule, McFarland and their associates have harmed in the aftermath of the Fyre disaster.
“We were going to put on a world-class production unprecedented anywhere else in the Caribbean,” Sabatini said. “We were a well-contained machine caught in the aftermath of negligence and a lack of oversight. They failed on so many levels and no one has been accountable with the government or with myself or other companies. We’ve all been through tremendous hardship.”