Ozy Media CEO Carlos Watson Arrested on Federal Fraud Charges
Carlos Watson, the MSNBC anchor-turned-CEO of the beleaguered Ozy Media, was arrested Thursday on charges related to securities fraud.
The Wall Street Journal reports that Watson’s arrest comes less than two days after Ozy’s former chief operating officer Samir Rao pleaded guilty to federal fraud charges related to his role at the company, including impersonating a YouTube exec during a fundraising call with Goldman Sachs.
“We are really disappointed,” Watson’s lawyer Lanny Breuer said of the arrest (via WSJ). “We have been acting in good faith and believe we had a constructive dialogue with the government and are shocked by the actions this morning.”
Watson will reportedly face charges of conspiring to commit securities fraud and conspiring to commit wire fraud. According to the New York Times, federal prosecutors said in a court document that Watson had “engaged in a scheme to defraud Ozy’s potential investors, potential acquirers, lenders, and potential lenders.”
The all-encompassing Ozy Media was founded in 2013 by Watson and Rao and their digital magazine, podcasts, festivals (which Rolling Stone called “a neoliberal nightmare”), and television series quickly rose to prominence thanks to their own left-leaning, millennial-focused content as well as partnerships with the New York Times, BBC, PBS, and National Geographic.
However, the New York Times reported about issues at Ozy Media in 2021, including allegations that they inflated their viewership numbers and, most damning, Rao impersonated a YouTube executive on the fundraising call; Watson later said that Rao’s actions were due to a mental health issue.
The Justice Department investigated the Ozy situation and ultimately charged Rao with fraud and identity theft charges, for which he pleaded guilty to Tuesday at a Brooklyn federal courthouse. Another Ozy exec, Suzee Han, also pleaded guilty earlier this month to falsifying financial information, which she claimed she was ordered to do by two unnamed Ozy executives.
Although Ozy initially planned to shutter in Oct. 2021 as investors and talent fled the company following the allegations, the media site has continued with a bare-bones staff, with Watson still serving as CEO.
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