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Ozy Media Chief Executive Arrested on Fraud Charges

Photo of Carlos Watson
Photo by Ozy Media under CC BY 3.0

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Digital media startup Ozy Media is billing its upcoming OzyFest 2023 as “TED meets Coachella,” but it’s looking like Fyre Festival may be the more apt comparison.

On Thursday, founder and chief executive of the multi-pronged media operation, Carlos Watson, was arrested on charges of conspiring to commit securities fraud and wire fraud, according to law enforcement officials. He’s just the latest domino to fall after an explosive New York Times exposé on the company a million news cycles ago… in 2021.

The Road to Jail is Paved by Bad Impressions

Let’s file this under “things that shouldn’t need to be explained”: it is not technically legal to impersonate an executive of one of the world’s largest companies while on a fundraising call with a major investment bank. But that’s exactly what former Ozy COO Samir Rao did two years ago, when he pretended to be a higher-up at Google while chatting with Goldman Sachs.

The stunt, first reported by the NYT, got the company into heaps of trouble. Rao finally pleaded guilty to fraud and identity theft charges in federal court on Tuesday — and now it appears those silly antics are catching up to his former colleagues:

  • Ozy’s former chief of staff Suzee Han pleaded guilty last week to fraud conspiracy charges and told a judge that she manipulated financial information about the company at the behest of two unnamed executives.
  • It’s a digital media star’s fall from grace. Per Pitchbook data, Ozy had raised a total of $83 million by April 2020 and had a valuation at the time of $159 million.

Look On My Works, Ye Mighty: “We are really disappointed,” Watson’s lawyer (and former US assistant attorney general) Lanny Breuer said following the arrest. “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.” Ozy has not responded to The Daily Upside’s request for comment. Fittingly, the name Ozy is short for Ozymandias, the sonnet by the English poet Shelley about the impermanence of all things and people.