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Fyre Festival founder Billy McFarland asks for early prison release, citing coronavirus concerns

Billy McFarland, the creator of the failed 2017 Fyre Festival, on Tuesday requested to be released early from prison and serve the remainder of his six year sentence under "home confinement." McFarland cited the coronavirus spread in the Ohio prison where he is currently being held as the reason he should be released, according to court documents obtained Thursday by CBS News. 

McFarland's request for compassionate release was made in a letter sent from his attorneys to Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. The lawyers argue in the letter that McFarland's "preexisting conditions" make him "particularly vulnerable to catching and suffering from severe or fatal consequences of the virus."  

McFarland told his lawyers that he was diagnosed with asthma as a teenager, and that he has been informed he is "on the 'extreme' scale of the allergy spectrum, for issues related to breathing and his cardiovascular system," according to the letter. The attorneys also said he has experienced heart issues since he was in his early 20s. 

Moderate to severe asthma is listed by the CDC as one of the serious underlying medical conditions that may put an individual at a "higher risk" for suffering a severe illness from coronavirus. 

The Federal Correctional Institution in Elkton, Ohio, the low-security prison where McFarland is currently serving out his sentence, was recently described as a "petri dish, a breeding ground" for the coronavirus by Ohio Republican Congressman Bill Johnson. As of Thursday, FCI Elkton has 73 open cases of coronavirus among federal inmates and staff — the third highest of any federal prison — and has reported six inmate deaths, according to the Bureau of Prisons

The letter also argues that McFarland is an "ideal candidate" for compassionate release as a first-time non-violent offender with no pending charges, history of violence or gang affiliations.  

McFarland also wrote a two-page letter himself, directed toward Judge Buchwald — the same justice who called him a "serial fraudster" as she sentenced him in the fall of 2018. McFarland admitted to defrauding investors out of $26 million for the notorious Fyre Festival and more than $100,000 in a ticket-selling scheme following his arrest.

"It took me longer than it should've, but your message has come through. It'll be a long road, but I can finally report, everything feels right," McFarland wrote in the letter. "I'm living with a level of peace and acceptance that I lost in the events leading up to my arrest. I'm working harder than ever, in furtherance of a mission I truly know is right. I know that by living every day with the dedication of helping those I let down, and by doing it within the rules and regulations, I will slowly but surely continue down the path so I badly needed to regain." 

Prisons across the U.S. continue to see cases of coronavirus, following weeks of warnings from activists and experts that the nearly 2.3 million people incarcerated across the U.S. are especially vulnerable to the pandemic. The close proximity of inmates, compounded with lack of proper treatment, can lead to the rapid spread of disease in prisons — where products like soap and even warm water can be difficult to access. 

McFarland is far from the first public figure to request a compassionate release or home detention amid the coronavirus pandemic. Figures including the former head of the Cali drug cartel and Bernard Madoff have been pleading their cases in recent months. 

Justin Carissimo contributed reporting. 

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