Carlos Watson Defense Team Asks Judge to Dismiss Charges, Asserting Racial Bias Behind Prosecution of Black Entrepreneur
White Brooklyn Prosecutors are Stretching the Law Beyond Recognition in Attempt to Criminalize Conduct in Troubling Pattern of Targeting People of Color, Motion States
MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif.
Aug. 2, 2023
defense team, led by
Ronald S. Sullivan Jr.
, today filed a motion to dismiss the charges against the black entrepreneur and Ozy Media founder on the basis that federal prosecutors with a track record of targeting people of color are trying to criminalize conduct generally accepted in the Silicon Valley world of start-ups.
Accusing the prosecutors in the Eastern District of
of “stretching the law beyond recognition in an attempt to criminalize what is at worst commonplace puffery,” Sullivan wrote, “we cannot ignore the context in which they have chosen to prosecute Mr. Watson…During the time of Ozy’s development, ESIs [early stage investors] had a wide variety of digital media companies to choose from, including, but not limited to, BuzzFeed and Vice Media. While these companies were and are household names, they have either completely collapsed or are financially struggling, as are similarly situated digital media firms. 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: their conduct was,
by orders of magnitude
, far more egregious. And yet they have not been indicted.”
Sullivan has also asked US Attorney General
for a status update on his request that the Department of Justice investigate whether racial bias in the Eastern District of
“Entrepreneuring while Black cannot be a crime,” Sullivan said about the Watson case. “This defense is about more than one defendant. It is about ensuring that every American, including the 47 million who are proud African Americans, receive equal justice under the law.”
At the heart of the motion to dismiss the charges against Watson are two points:
First, federal prosecutors are attempting to criminalize Watson’s
actions – including tactics commonly used by entrepreneurs to gain the attention of Silicon Valley and other venture capitalists who provide capital investments for start-ups to launch and grow.
Watson and his family invested millions of dollars of their own money into Ozy
Media, a cutting-edge news and entertainment company based in
focused on “the new and the next.”
produced newsletters, television shows,
, festivals and awards. It employed nearly 1,000 people full-time and part-time, 90 percent of whom were women or people of color. In 2019, Watson was executive producer of an Emmy-winning
OWN Network program titled, “Motherhood.”
Sullivan disputed prosecutors’ assertions that Watson’s
actions were criminal. Even if the information provided to investors was incorrect, he said, it was not the kind of material information investors rely on to make funding decisions. Similarly, the motion argues that
impersonation by Ozy Chief Operating Officer
of other company executives during reference calls does not meet the statutory definition of aggravated identity theft.
, Former New York Times Executive Editor
deployed “the tactics of a scam artist” and called the company’s stock offering a “scandalous swindle.”
Yet, Sullivan pointed out, only Ozy and Watson have been targeted for prosecution: “The others are white and white-owned.
is a Black man and Ozy Media was majority-owned by people of color.”
Second, Sullivan points to the track record of the prosecutors pursuing Watson to seek dismissal of the charges on the basis of selective prosecution or to at least afford the defense team the opportunity for discovery to better ascertain the prosecutors’ mindset and motives.
The three white prosecutors pursuing Watson have prosecuted people of color in 90 percent of their cases while charging white defendants only 6 percent of the time – even though Whites make up 45 percent of the population that comprises the Eastern District of
. At a minimum, Sullivan asserted, the judge should grant discovery so the defense team can investigate whether a racial bias exists among the white prosecutors in
Referring to the national implications of the Watson case, Sullivan added, “We wait to hear from both Attorney General Garland and Judge Komitee
, who can send powerful messages to people of color that racial bias will not be tolerated in the American justice system.”
Throughout his career, Sullivan has represented clients in challenging and complex cases, including many that involved race-related issues. He successfully represented the family of
in reaching a settlement with the city of Ferguson on a wrongful death claim. The Huffington
Post dubbed him “The Man Who Dealt the Biggest Blow to Mass Incarceration,” noting that he won the release of more wrongfully incarcerated persons – over 6,000 – than anyone in US history. In 2008, he served as Chair, Criminal Justice Advisory Committee for then-Senator
presidential campaign. He currently serves as faculty director of the Harvard Criminal Justice Institute.