Remember the last time you disappointed your mother? Well, no matter what you did, chances are, you aren’t facing a life of shame as a convicted fraudster.
These five young adults, unfortunately, have landed themselves in hot soup because of their alleged involvement in scams and con-jobs (some pretty monumental, in fact) that have successfully swindled plenty out of a hefty sum.
The biggest scandal of the moment has got to be Fyre Festival (more on that below), which became the subject of two duelling documentaries, Fyre by Netflix and Fyre Fraud by Hulu, both released in January. Watch them to see how the greatest party ever became a monumental disaster, all thanks to its very charismatic wunderkind organiser who played to this generation’s biggest desire — to have a perfectly filtered life. Read on for more.
1. Billy McFarland — Fyre Festival
You’ve probably heard of the spectacular failure that is Fyre Festival, which basically sold tickets to a luxe music festival in the Bahamas that didn’t happen. Promoted heavily by influencers including Kendall Jenner and Emily Ratajkowski, the event seemed like the place to be, promising two fun-filled weekends of music, food and partying by the beach on a remote island in the Exumas on Fyre Cay. Bonus? You might get to rub shoulders with the hottest models and celebs of the moment.
Featuring acts such as Major Lazer, Disclosure, Pusha T, Blink-182 and more, getting in would cost at least US$500 (S$675.30) for a day ticket. If you wanted accommodation, you could expect to pay anywhere from US$1,500 (S$2025.91) to US$25,000 (S$33,881.25) per pax, though the latter could only be bought in sets of 10 — yep, that’s a quarter of a million dollars!
Meanwhile US$12,000 (S$16207.26) will get you a VIP package complete with your own private, eco-friendly geodesic dome (basically a glorified tent — but well-furnished — to hide and nurse your hangover).
April of 2017 I was contracted to work for @fyre_festival in the Bahamas. While it was a shit show I can honestly look back on that with a real sense of humor. I made interesting friends and have a fun story to share. Also, the staff was well fed and housed on a ship with ac and hot water. We didn’t get stuck with cheese sandwiches and mobile mattresses. We also drank as much of the vip booze on the vip beach as possible. No, i don’t feel bad about rich kids getting screwed, there were slight inconveniences but they also enjoyed free booze and partied on a beach. Many of them made the best of a shit situation. And I don’t feel bad that the fine people who went there to work and lost real money took what they could from this experience. We were part of the many that were scammed and each lost thousands. So I’ll jump on the band wagon and share my experience. . . . . #fyrefestival #fyre #billymcfarland #fyrefraud #netflix #hulu #photography #photojournalism #photojournalist #musicfestival #nycphotographer #canon5dmarkiii
Frankly, Fyre Festival sounds awesome. But it soon became clear that the organisers had no clue what they were doing when attendees arrived to find unfinished concert grounds and a lack of accommodation. It soon descended into chaos, as attendees were forced to scramble for their own tents (from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, btw) that were soaking wet due to a thunderstorm the night before.
They also received poor quality food (cheese sandwiches in foam containers, and no, we don’t think it’s Gruyère) and found that they didn’t have access to essentials such as toilets and running water.
Suffice to say, it was a nightmare, and what’s worse, attendees were stranded on the island or at the airport for hours.
Billy McFarland ended up getting convicted of defrauding investors of US$27.4 million, and was sentenced to six years jail. Additionally, Billy, who is just 27-years-old, and collaborator/rapper Ja Rule are now facing a US$100 million lawsuit in the state of California, a class action on behalf of over 150 plaintiffs.
By the way, while Billy was already under investigation for the Fyre Festival disaster, he was also arrested for creating the fraudulent ticket company NYC VIP Access, a scam offering tickets to Met Gala, Burning Man and Coachella, earning him the label of “the consummate con artist” by federal prosecutors. Some guys never learn.
2. Elizabeth Holmes – Theranos
Hailed as a Silicon Valley darling, Elizabeth Holmes appeared to hold the key to disrupting traditionally high-cost healthcare systems in the US and possibly around the world. At age 19, Elizabeth promised to save patients from painful and inconvenient blood tests in hospital rooms, claiming instead to be able to diagnose anything from diabetes to cancer with just a prick of the finger.
Riding this claim, and a carefully crafted image predicated on Steve Job’s black turtlenecks, Elizabeth managed to drive up the valuation of her company, Theranos, to a staggering US$9 billion. (Yep, billion.) In total, U$700 million were collected from investors.
Just too bad that Elizabeth’s invention didn’t work, as revealed when a series of Wall Street Journal Articlesbrought the seemingly miracle technology under scrutiny by the authorities. The core issue was that the majority of the blood test results supplied by Theranos to investors were derived using traditional lab testing procedures instead of the company’s Edison devices, and that the company’s Edison machines might provide inaccurate results.
However, Elizabeth and her company apparently hid this fact, and continued to exaggerate the capabilities of their proprietary “nanotainer” devices, culminating in charges of widespread fraud.
Of course, all this is great fodder for entertainment. The Stanford dropout is now the subject of a new HBO documentary, The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley, which investigates the rise and fall of Theranos. The 35-year-old’s story will also hit the big screen, with Jennifer Lawrence slated to star as the Theranos CEO.
What about our real-life figure? Well, Elizabeth briefly avoided jail when she and her company settled with the US Securities and Exchange Commission. However, she now faces up to 20 years in jail, having been indicted on charges of fraud by a federal grand jury.
3. Anna Delvey – High Society Socialite
This next entry proves that if you flash enough cash, you can get away with almost anything.
Anna Delvey burst onto the New York socialite scene in 2017, appearing to know everyone and anyone. She was seen at all the best parties, rubbing shoulders with the well-heeled and well known, posing as the heiress daughter of a fictitious billionaire Russian magnate. She stayed at some of the swankiest hotels for weeks at a stretch, tipping frequently with US$100 bills.
Her Instagram feed was the stuff of luxe envy — chock full of designer clothes, high-end hotels and glamorous nights out.
When people asked, Anna told people she was in town looking to start a foundation of sorts, telling potential investors her family in Germany would be backing her project. But in truth, Anna Delvey — real name Anna Sorokin — had nowhere close to the financial means she insisted she had. Instead, she reportedly resorted to forgeries, bad cheques and borrowing from friends to keep up her fantasy life as some sort of young, misunderstood German princess trying to make her mark in the world.
And for a while it worked, mainly because Anna kept on distracting her detractors with US$100 bills that just kept flowing.
But it all came to a crashing halt when her lies and very expensive hotel charges finally caught up with her when she ran out of both money and rich friends.
Arrested in October 2017 and charged with 10 counts of larceny, Anna is currently awaiting trial. But get this: Anna is also being charged with visa violations, which means either way, she’s headed for some serious jail time. The light at the end of this sordid tale? She will likely be deported back to Germany after the whole thing is over.
4. Jho Loh – The Billionaire Embezzler
With his rotund face and ruddy cheeks, Jho Loh (also known as Low Taek Jho) looks like the jolly uncle who likes to pull coins from behind your ears. But in fact, he’s now wanted as the prime suspect for one of the largest financial frauds of our time.
The US Department of Justice has claimed in a civil-forfeiture action that Jho helped siphon off billions from Malaysia’s development fund, 1MDB, through fraudulent deals and complex money laundering. Jho,who has been criminally indicted in Malaysia, has denied all allegations of wrongdoing.
What’s fascinating though, is the portrait of Jho as a member of the elite who wasn’t satisfied with his lot. Nope, despite his fortunate birth into a millionaire family, he aspired to be part of the billionaire class, and spent his entire life working towards this goal. Known for his love of partying with celebrities, Jho romanced Hollywood starlets and splashed out extravagantly on gems and champagne-soaked parties on a super yacht, even paying celebrities such as Kate Upton to make strategic appearances and giving Australian model Miranda Kerr jewellery worth some $9 million.
He also bought a private jet, famous art masterpieces and a penthouse in New York, and financed Hollywood films — all to allegedly cultivate an image as a billionaire.
Even as a fugitive on the run, Jho is said to have multiple connections and some measure of protection from the Chinese government, thanks to his links to certain senior Chinese officials. There were also reports alleging that an American artiste and a Thai businessman were financially supporting Jho’s accommodation and legal and advisory fees.
We’ll be waiting with bated breath to see how this whole saga finally ends.
5. Wong Ching-kit – Coin Young Master
Photo: Asiaone/South China Morning Post
Outside of rap videos or the privacy of our own bedrooms after a particularly auspicious Chinese New Year, very rarely do we throw dollar bills in the air to simulate the feeling of “making it rain”. So imagine the surprise of the good people of Hong Kong when thousands of dollars started to fall from a high-rise building last December.
The stunt was linked to Wong Ching-kit, a young entrepreneur known for his flashy lifestyle featuring a bevy of luxury cars. The 24-year-old preceded his cash-tossing stunt with a Facebook live video, saying he wanted to feed the poor by robbing the rich.
Later on, Wong announced he would be giving out meal coupons to the needy, and even uploaded a video of his subsequent arrest by the police for supposedly disturbing the peace with his antics.
But it was most likely calculated to craft Wong an image as some sort of socially minded philanthropist who really wanted the man-in-the-street to share in the wealth. In reality, Wong, also known as Coin Young Master, is the owner of a cryptocurrency business. He is facing charges of fraud for selling expensive cryptocurrency mining machines, causing total losses of HK$2.6 million to investors.
Why? Well while cryptocurrencies are legal in Hong Kong, they are as yet unregulated. This means that investors who bought the mining machines could not trade their cryptocurrencies on the market, making the mining machines they bought from Wong — in reality, high-end computers — virtually useless. Despite this, Wong and his associates were accused of heavily promoting the high-powered machines, while ignoring calls for refunds.