Ozy’s board starts an investigation after a Times report raises questions about the company.
The board of directors of Ozy, a digital media company, said on Tuesday that it had hired a law firm to investigate its “business activities” after a New York Times report raised questions about the company’s practices.
In a statement, the board said it had hired Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton and Garrison, a large international firm with headquarters in New York, to conduct the review. The board also said it had asked Samir Rao, the chief operating officer of Ozy, “to take a leave of absence pending the results of the investigation.”
“We will continue to review the company’s leadership in the coming months,” the board said in the statement.
Founded in 2013, Ozy has a general interest news site, publishes a raft of newsletters and produces interview programs and documentaries, some of which appear on YouTube. The Times’s media columnist, Ben Smith, reported that Mr. Rao had apparently impersonated a YouTube executive during a conference call in February with Goldman Sachs bankers who were considering a deal to invest $40 million in Ozy. On the call, the person posing as the executive told the bankers that Ozy’s videos were a great success on YouTube.
Ozy’s founder, Carlos Watson, told The Times and posted on Twitter that Mr. Rao had been going through a mental health crisis at the time of the call. He added that Mr. Rao took some time off work afterward but had since returned to the company, which is based in Mountain View, Calif. Marc Lasry, a hedge fund manager, a co-owner of the Milwaukee Bucks basketball team and chairman of the Ozy board, told The Times in a statement for the article published on Sunday that “the board was made aware of the incident, and we fully support the way it was handled.”
After the conference call, Goldman Sachs called off its potential investment in Ozy, and Google, which owns YouTube, alerted the Federal Bureau of Investigation. (The F.B.I.’s San Francisco field office would not confirm or deny the existence of an investigation.)
On Tuesday, Ozy’s board said that Harry Hawks, a former executive president and chief financial officer of Hearst Television, would serve as an interim chief financial officer while the company’s leadership was under review.