There was a moment, this past Feb. 2, when the investment professionals at Goldman Sachs Asset Management realized something was fishy. It wasn’t that YouTube Originals executive Alex Piper was having trouble with Zoom; who among us, in this remote, pestilent era hasn’t? It wasn’t when he suggested they move the proceedings to a regular old conference call, where no one would be able to see his face. It wasn’t, apparently, when they began to hear him lavish praise upon digital media company and YouTube content provider Ozy, to which GSAM was about to commit $40 million. Not initially, perhaps, but eventually something didn’t seem right. Perhaps there was an unusual tinniness to Piper’s voice, perhaps it sounded like he was running it through Auto-Tune, perhaps there was an unmistakable hint of some other kind of voice modulator. In any event, once the phone festivities had wrapped up, one of the good little Goldmanites gave Piper’s office at YouTube a call.

A confused Mr. Piper told the Goldman Sachs investor that he had never spoken with her before. Someone else, it seemed, had been playing the part of Mr. Piper on the call with Ozy.

When YouTube learned that someone had apparently impersonated one of their executives at a business meeting, its security team started an investigation, the company confirmed to me. The inquiry didn’t get far before a name emerged: Within days, [Ozy CEO Carlos] Watson had apologized profusely to Goldman Sachs, saying the voice on the call belonged to Samir Rao, the co-founder and chief operating officer of Ozy, according to the four people.

Ozy has since explained that Rao, like Watson himself a Goldman veteran, was suffering a mental health crisis at the time, although the Times exposé indicates that some level of fabulism is perhaps not unknown to Ozy more generally, and apparently the FBI thinks there may be a bit more to it. That is not our concern, for it seems to us there was a moment before the whole aforementioned pantomime that someone on the GSAM team should have realized that something was amiss.

After the meeting, someone on the Goldman Sachs side reached out to Mr. Piper, not through the Gmail address that was provided to participants before the meeting, but through Mr. Piper’s assistant at YouTube.

Sure, YouTube is owned by Google, and a Gmail address may not be the same kind of red flag as a Hotmail or AOL or free-email.com address, but still: Surely it must have seemed odd. Surely it should have occurred to one of the very smart people thinking about putting $40 million in client money into an internet content creator with an allegedly awry relationship with reality that even Google employees’ e-mail addresses don’t end in “gmail.com.” Why didn’t this very senior executive at YouTube conducting a very business-related call not have a youtube.com address? Why did it take having someone who sounded less like an in-the-know thought leader and more like HAL-9000 to realize that not all was as it seemed?

Goldman Sachs, Ozy Media and a $40 Million Conference Call Gone Wrong [NYT]

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