Ozy CEO Carlos Watson arrested and charged with fraud

Carlos Watson, the founder and CEO of Ozy Media, has been arrested in New York and charged with two counts of fraud and one depend of id theft. The Wall Road Journal first reported information of his arrest. The motion by legislation enforcement officers comes after years of scrutiny on Watson and the high-profile, fast collapse of his media firm.

Watson publicly introduced himself as a well-connected, charismatic CEO, however two years in the past, that every one got here crumbling down, following a report within the New York Instances former Chief Working Officer Samir Rao had impersonated a YouTube government throughout a convention name with Goldman Sachs, which was contemplating a $40 million funding within the firm.   

That led to an investigation by federal officers. And inside 5 days of that story’s publication, Watson shut Ozy down utterly, with reporters’ interview notes in Google Drive, together with emails, Slack messages and extra disappearing, Fortune beforehand reported. Three days later, the story would take a good odder flip, when Watson confirmed up on the As we speak Present, saying plans to relaunch Ozy and asking workers to return again.

Watson’s arrest on Thursday follows a responsible plea on Tuesday from Rao, who admitted to fraud and id theft, saying he had made deceptive statements to traders and inflated the corporate’s monetary efficiency between 2018 and 2021. He entered the plea underneath a John Doe pseudonym with the courtroom’s permission, because the Brooklyn U.S. lawyer’s workplace continued to research Ozy, the Journal reported.

One other former Ozy government pleaded responsible on Feb. 14 to fraud conspiracy fees.

A questionable historical past

Ozy’s fall was fast, and the corporate seemingly performed it quick and unfastened lengthy earlier than it shuttered.

As an illustration, in July 2019, Watson went on CNBC to announce that his pals Ozzy and Sharon Osborne had invested in his media startup. Because it occurs, they have been something however pals and had by no means invested. They’d, in reality, sued Watson lately over the identify of a pageant the corporate was internet hosting in Central Park.

“This man is the most important shyster I’ve ever seen in my life,” stated Sharon Osbourne on the time. “He’s insane.”

Watson later clarified that the Osbournes have been supplied shares of Ozy Media as a part of the lawsuit settlement.

“He was the grasp of maneuvering round questions and never giving a precise reply,” a former worker advised Fortune in 2021.

Newsletters from the outlet have been despatched to individuals who had by no means subscribed. And former Ozy deputy editor Kate Crane advised Fortune a couple of dialog in 2015 with Ozy’s then-head of viewers by which she discovered that visitors knowledge given to traders and employees “didn’t line up” with firm knowledge.  

Regardless of that, the digital outlet was a favourite of Silicon Valley, with investments from Axel Springer, Lauren Powell Jobs’ Emerson Collective, SuRo Capital, and former Ozy chair and billionaire enterprise capitalist Marc Lasry. By April 2020, the corporate had raised $83 million, in accordance with PitchBook Knowledge (as quoted by the Wall Road Journal.)

In 2020, Watson advised Axios the corporate introduced in $50 million in income and achieved profitability—and reportedly boasted it will be valued at $5 billion by 2025. 

Staff, on the time, have been skeptical of Ozy, however say that they had no thought how deep the issues have been.

“I knew that there was slicing corners and biting off greater than they may chew, and that that they had shoddy enterprise practices. However did I do know that they have been mendacity out their mouths about every little thing? No,” Joshua Eferighe, a former author at Ozy who left, advised Fortune in 2021.

The corporate had reportedly been speaking about bringing again its Ozy Fest occasion collection up to now few weeks. The standing of that, following Watson’s arrest, is unclear.

“We’re actually disillusioned,” Lanny Breuer, Watson’s lawyer advised the WSJ when requested about his consumer’s arrest. “We’ve been performing in good religion and consider we had a constructive dialogue with the federal government and are shocked by the actions this morning.” 

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