Ozy’s Rao Details Posing as YouTube Official to Win Goldman Investment

Ozy Media Inc.’s former chief operating officer Samir Rao told a federal jury how he used a voice-altering app to impersonate a YouTube executive on a call with Goldman Sachs Group Inc in a desperate bid to win a $35 million investment.

Bloomberg
First Published4 Jun 2024
Ozy’s Rao Details Posing as YouTube Official to Win Goldman Investment
Ozy’s Rao Details Posing as YouTube Official to Win Goldman Investment

(Bloomberg) -- Ozy Media Inc.’s former chief operating officer Samir Rao told a federal jury how he used a voice-altering app to impersonate a YouTube executive on a call with Goldman Sachs Group Inc in a desperate bid to win a $35 million investment.

Rao, who’s testifying as part of a plea agreement, said he conspired with former Ozy Media’s co-founder Carlos Watson, to pose as YouTube executive Alex Piper during a February 2021 conference call in order to fool Goldman into thinking the failing digital media company was profitable.

Watson is on trial in Brooklyn, New York, on charges that he conspired to defraud investors out of tens of millions of dollars. Ozy, a once high-flying media startup backed by Marc Lasry, was sent into tailspin after the New York Times reported about Rao’s impersonation in 2021.

While Ozy boasted it had a huge audience for its website, newsletters and videos, the truth was grimmer, Rao said. For years he said he and Watson struggled to keep the company afloat. While Ozy told Goldman that it had booked $5.71 in revenue from YouTube, in reality, the number was “zero,” Rao said. 

“We decided that I would proceed and try and fake the reference call and pretend to be Alex,” Rao told a federal jury Monday afternoon. “I was about to do something incredibly — incredibly fraudulent and illegal. I was now actually going to pretend to be somebody else.”

The two decided they could manipulate Goldman during the faked YouTube call after speaking to YouTube, Rao said.

Watson was seated across the room during the call and told Rao what to say, according to emails and chat messages shown to jurors. Both immediately realized their plan failed catastrophically, Rao said. Goldman had reached out to the real Alex Piper who phoned Rao and demanded an explanation.

Like, What’s Going On?

Piper “was really frustrated and upset” and demanded to know “‘What are you doing? Like, what’s going on with this? Like, why am I hearing there was a call?,”’ Rao said.

Then Rao called Goldman’s Allison Berardo, who confronted him. 

“I tried to ask, you know, how was the reference call? How did it go? And I remember her saying some version of ‘Well, how do you think it went?’ And then she started to turn the call into a — almost an attempt to get me to confirm that I had impersonated Alex. She said ‘who really was on that call? Who was on that call, Samir?’ She said something like ‘I can help you walk out of this, I can help you walk back from this or get out of this, but you have to tell me the truth.”’

Rao said he and Watson decided that he alone would claim responsibility for the ruse and that Watson would tell investors that Rao had suffered “a mental-health episode.”

The decision was to save Ozy, Rao said. 

“If the board or investors believed that Carlos was aware of what had happened and that it was his judgment that that was an acceptable course of action for me to impersonate Alex Piper, that would have probably ended the company right there,” he said. 

Watson, who’s charged with conspiracy and securities fraud, has pleaded not guilty and denies wrongdoing. His lawyer Ronald Sullivan in opening statements told jurors that Rao was a “crooked co-founder” who got a “sweetheart deal” from prosecutors. 

Rao said his fraud was going to “haunt me for the rest of my life” adding, “my ambition, my desire to be successful, my desire to be seen as tough enough or good enough to succeed in this world completely overtook my judgment and my moral compass.”

But he also blamed Watson. “A lot of that mindset had to do with Carlos’s deep belief that failure was not an option and we had to do whatever it took.”

Rao returns to the stand Friday when court resumes. The trial is expected to last until July.

More stories like this are available on bloomberg.com

©2024 Bloomberg L.P.

Catch all the Business News, Market News, Breaking News Events and Latest News Updates on Live Mint. Download The Mint News App to get Daily Market Updates.MoreLess
HomeNewsOzy’s Rao Details Posing as YouTube Official to Win Goldman Investment

Most Active Stocks

Bharat Electronics

309.55
10:29 AM | 14 JUN 2024
8.6 (2.86%)

Indian Oil Corporation

170.30
10:25 AM | 14 JUN 2024
1.2 (0.71%)

HDFC Bank

1,597.45
10:28 AM | 14 JUN 2024
16.55 (1.05%)

State Bank Of India

840.20
10:29 AM | 14 JUN 2024
-3.7 (-0.44%)
More Active Stocks

Market Snapshot

  • Top Gainers
  • Top Losers
  • 52 Week High

JK Paper

490.70
10:25 AM | 14 JUN 2024
44.35 (9.94%)

KRBL

310.05
10:22 AM | 14 JUN 2024
23.05 (8.03%)

Poly Medicure

2,003.00
09:59 AM | 14 JUN 2024
142.9 (7.68%)

KEC International

935.20
10:25 AM | 14 JUN 2024
66.25 (7.62%)
More from Top Gainers

Recommended For You

    More Recommendations

    Gold Prices

    • 24K
    • 22K
    Bangalore
    73,806.00577.00
    Chennai
    73,806.00148.00
    Delhi
    73,735.00291.00
    Kolkata
    73,088.00-141.00

    Fuel Price

    • Petrol
    • Diesel
    Bangalore
    99.84/L0.00
    Chennai
    100.75/L0.00
    Kolkata
    103.94/L0.00
    New Delhi
    94.72/L0.00
    OPEN IN APP
    HomeMarketsPremiumInstant LoanGet App