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Google CEO to testify in trial of bankrupt startup Ozzy Media and its founder Carlos Watson

Google CEO to testify in trial of bankrupt startup Ozzy Media and its founder Carlos Watson


Watson later told another potential investor that Pichai himself had made a nine-figure offer to buy Ozzie, according to prosecutors. [File]
| Photo credit: Reuters

Google CEO Sundar Pichai testified briefly on Friday in the federal financial conspiracy trial of controversial startup Ozzy Media, refuting claims by founder Carlos Watson that the search giant had previously tried to acquire Ozzy.

Pichai told jurors that Google had considered hiring Watson as a news executive in 2021 and investing $25 million in Ozzie as a sort of trade-off to poach Watson.

“Mr Watson is a vital member of Ozzy Media and was considering investing in the company to ease the transition,” he explained.

But did you ever offer to buy Ozzy Media for $600 million? prosecutor Dylan Stern asked.

“No,” said Pichai, who heads Google and its parent company Alphabet.

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He said he was introduced to Watson at a conference and then in a video interview for a job at Google interacting with press outlets. In the end, neither the hire nor the $25 million investment ever came to fruition.

Watson later told another potential investor that Pichai himself offered a nine-figure sum to buy Ozzy, prosecutors said.The Mountain View, California-based company, which produced TV shows, podcasts and a music and ideas festival, filed for bankruptcy in the fall of 2021 amid allegations that it had materially misrepresented its viewership, trading and financial performance.

Shannon Frison, an attorney for Ozzy Media, said in an emailed statement Friday that it was “completely false” that Watson had told anyone that Google had made a $600 million acquisition offer.

Frison said he never had such a conversation with Google and never discussed it with anyone.

Watson and Ozzy Media have pleaded not guilty to the charges, including conspiracy to fraud. Watson claims he built a solid, genuine company, didn't defraud anyone and, at best, made entrepreneurial mistakes but is being prosecuted for them.

The defense is accusing Ozzy co-founder Samir Rao of making false statements, alleging he falsely implicated Watson in a bid to avoid prison for himself. Rao has pleaded guilty to identity theft and conspiracy to fraud and is awaiting sentencing.

He testified earlier in the trial that his own morality was confused by Carlos's ambition, his desperation to keep the company afloat, and his strong belief that failure was not an option and that he had to do whatever it took.

Among other fraudulent activities, Rao notoriously used a phone app to disguise his voice and pose as a YouTube executive to defend Ozzy during a February 2021 call with an investment banker from Goldman Sachs.

Hillel Moorman, a Goldman executive, testified Friday that the call was one of the most unsettling calls I've had in my career and called the incident a surreal experience.

Rao testified that he used the phone trick to support a false claim that YouTube was funding a talk show bearing Watson's name. Rao said Watson was present during the calls and texted him what to say. “I'm a big fan of Carlos, Samir and the show,” said one text message shown to the jury.

Defense attorney Ronald Sullivan Jr. said Watson came into the room during the call, noticed a commotion and tried to get Rao to end the conversation.

Meanwhile, among other clues that made Goldman's bankers suspicious, Mr. Moman recalled on Friday, he noticed something distinctly off about the voice of a person he believed to be a YouTube executive.

Soon one of his colleagues was calling executives at Alphabet Inc.'s YouTube. The ruse was uncovered, and so was Goldman's chance of investing.

“We had been lied to,” Moman explained to jurors in Brooklyn federal court.

Goldman Sachs continued to advertise with Ozzie after the incident, according to Rao's testimony.

Watson told Goldman and Ozzi that Rao was going through a mental crisis. Rao told jurors he was taking antidepressants at the time but was not suffering from a mental illness.




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