Fraud Trial to Begin for Ozy Founder Carlos Watson

The 2010s were a frothy time for digital publishing. Billions of dollars flowed into publishers like BuzzFeed and Vice, with big media companies and venture capitalists betting those start-ups would eventually make lots of money.

For the most part, those huge profits were a pipe dream. But despite the lost money, disappointed investors and a slew of negative press coverage, the executives who founded those companies never had to answer for their conduct in a courtroom. Until now.

The jury trial of Carlos Watson, who is charged with trying to defraud investors in the digital media start-up he co-founded, Ozy Media, is scheduled to begin Monday with jury selection in federal court in Brooklyn. Mr. Watson has pleaded not guilty to all the charges against him. If convicted, he could face up to 37 years in prison.

It remains unclear what Mr. Watson’s defense will be when the trial begins, or whether he will take the stand. But one of the arguments his lawyer has made in court filings leading up to the trial is unusual: The allegations involve the same “puffing and bluffing” practiced by the founders of BuzzFeed and Vice, but prosecutors singled out Mr. Watson for punishment because he is a Black man.

“Their founders reportedly — and in some cases, admittedly — engaged in conduct that differs from the conduct charged in Mr. Watson’s indictment in only one way,” his lawyers argued in a legal filing from August. “Their conduct was, by orders of magnitude, far more egregious. And yet they have not been indicted.”

A judge in April rejected Mr. Watson’s motion that the charges be dismissed because of discriminatory prosecution.

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