The co-founder of Ozy Media is accused of impersonating a YouTube executive on a conference call that presented rosier-than-reality statistics on the company’s reach — and now the FBI is investigating, according to a new report.
Samir Rao, the co-founder and COO of the digital media company, allegedly pretended to be Alex Piper, the head of unscripted programming for YouTube Originals, on a call with a team from Goldman Sachs in February, the New York Times reported Sunday.
Goldman Sachs was closing in on a $40 million investment in Ozy this past winter.
Piper was expected to provide details on Ozy’s success on YouTube on a Zoom meeting but when he was late, he requested that it be moved to a conference call, the paper reported, citing four people who were briefed on the meeting.
As the call went on, though, the Goldman investors noticed that Piper’s voice sounded strange and “might have been digitally altered,” the Times reported.
So the team from Goldman reached out to Piper’s assistant at YouTube only to find that he had never been on the call, according to the Times.
After the issue was raised, YouTube’s security team started investigating and within days, Carlos Watson, co-founder and CEO of Ozy, apologized to Goldman and said the impersonator on the call was Rao, the Times reported.
Watson reportedly attributed the incident to Rao’s mental health crisis he was grappling with at the time.
“Samir is a valued colleague and a close friend,” Watson said in a statement to the Times. “I’m proud that we stood by him while he struggled, and we’re all glad to see him now thriving again.”
Rao, who took time off after the incident, is now back at Ozy, the report said.
Marc Lasry, a hedge fund manager and chairman of Ozy’s board of directors, told the Times that “the board was made aware of the incident, and we fully support the way it was handled.”
It was an “unfortunate one-time event,” he reportedly added.
While Ozy’s board appeared settled with the matter, Google, YouTube’s parent company, tasked its security with a further investigation, the Times added.
Google alerted the FBI to the matter, two people with knowledge of the matter told the Times, and federal law enforcement officials then contacted Goldman Sachs, one person with knowledge of that inquiry said.
Watson told the Times that Ozy has not been contacted by investigators, and the FBI would not confirm nor deny the existence of an investigation.
Representatives for Ozy, Google and Goldman did not immediately return The Post’s request for comment.