Carlos Watson, founder and CEO of embattled media and entertainment company Ozy Media, which has previously been the subject of lawsuits filed by investors who say they were defrauded, was arrested Thursday in New York to answer for charges of, well, defrauding investors.
Actually, according to Variety, Watson has been charged with federal securities fraud and wire fraud. Watson was arraigned on the same day as his arrest and appeared before Magistrate Judge Cheryl Pollak of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York in Brooklyn.
If Watson—who, according to the New York Post, pleaded not guilty and is now free on $1 million bond—is convicted, Watson is looking at a mandatory minimum sentence of two years in prison and a maximum sentence of 37 years behind bars.
The Justice Department’s indictment charges Ozy Media and Watson with conspiracy to commit securities fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud in connection with a scheme to defraud Ozy’s investors and lenders “by making material misrepresentations about Ozy’s financial and business assets,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York said in a statement. Watson is also charged with “aggravated identity theft” for his role in the impersonation of multiple media company executives in communications with Ozy’s lenders and prospective investors in furtherance of the fraud schemes, prosecutors said.
The feds alleged that Watson and his co-conspirators — including former Ozy chief operating officer Samir Rao and ex-chief of staff Suzee Han — “orchestrated a scheme to defraud investors in and lenders to Ozy of tens of millions of dollars through fraudulent misrepresentations and omissions about key aspects of Ozy’s business, including Ozy’s financial results, debts and audience size.”
Meanwhile, Rao and Han have both pleaded guilty to federal fraud charges and are “expected to face sentencing later this year,” the Post reported. But, apparently, Watson isn’t going out so willingly, and his attorney appears to be claiming he was blindsided by his client’s arrest.
“I am deeply disappointed by the events of today,” defense lawyer Lanny Breuer told Variety after Watson’s arrest. “We were engaged in a good faith and constructive dialogue with the government. Given the [Justice] Department’s claims of promoting such dialogue, I do not understand the dramatic decision to arrest Carlos today.”
Still, legal officials appear to be pretty convinced that Watson is a grifter who’s basically been running the FYRE Festival version of a media company.
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