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Former chief operating officer of Ozy Media, Samir Rao, impersonated a YouTube executive using a voice-altering app during a call with Goldman Sachs to try and win a $35 million investment, Bloomberg reported this week.

Rao is testifying against Ozy Media co-founder Carlos Watson as part of a plea agreement. Watson is on trial in Brooklyn after being accused that he “conspired to defraud investors out of tens of millions of dollars”.

Rao said that he and Watson conspired in February 2021 to pose as YouTube executive Alex Piper to try and win an investment from Goldman. The company collapsed shortly thereafter the impersonations were reported by The New York Times. 

Rao said on the stand: “We decided that I would proceed and try and fake the reference call and pretend to be Alex. I was about to do something incredibly — incredibly fraudulent and illegal. I was now actually going to pretend to be somebody else.”

The Bloomberg report notes that e-mails and chat messages sent to jurors show Watson was across the room from Rao, directing him on what to say. 

Rao

Goldman, however, reached out to Piper who then turned around to Rao and demanded an explanation. “‘What are you doing? Like, what’s going on with this? Like, why am I hearing there was a call?,”’ Rao testified that Piper said to him, according to the report

Rao also explained how Goldman’s Allison Berardo asked him about the call: “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.”

Rao continued: “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 and Watson then decided Rao would take the fall and attribute the decision to a “mental health” issue, in order to save Ozy. 

“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.

“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.”

Rao is set to testify again when the trial, expected to run through July, continues on Friday.

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