Image source, Getty ImagesImage caption, Ozy chief executive Carlos Watson was a former CNN news anchor

Major advertisers are reportedly cutting ties with the embattled US media firm Ozy Media amid a deepening scandal over its business practices.

Ford, Target, Goldman Sachs and AirBnB have paused campaigns, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Ozy's chairman Marc Lasry and ex-BBC journalist Katty Kay have also quit.

It follows reports that Ozy's chief operating officer deceived potential investors during a conference call and is being investigated by the FBI.

In another twist, Sharon Osborne, the wife of rock star Ozzy Osbourne, alleged the firm's chief executive, Carlos Watson, falsely claimed the couple had invested in the business.

Mr Watson made the claims in a TV interview with broadcaster CNBC in 2019 after settling a trademark dispute with the couple.

  • Former BBC journalist Katty Kay quits US media firm

Ms Osbourne told CNBC on Thursday: "This guy is the biggest shyster I have ever seen in my life."

Neither Mr Watson nor Ozy Media has commented publicly on the claims.

Target, Goldman Sachs and AirBnB did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But Ford confirmed the reports, saying: "We are pausing our advertising while Ozy Media addresses their current business challenges."

US banking services firm Ally Financial said its relationship with Ozy was on hold "in light of recent developments".

'Mental health crisis'

Ozy Media, which was launched in California in 2013, produces left-leaning podcasts, television series and events, and has won an Emmy for its work.

Last weekend, the New York Times reported that its co-founder and chief operating officer, Samir Rao, impersonated a senior leader at YouTube during a conference call with Goldman Sachs in February. At that point the investment bank was considering making a $40m investment in the media company.

Mr Rao reportedly claimed that Ozy's videos were highly popular on YouTube.

Image source, Getty ImagesImage caption, Katty Kay called the allegations against the firm "troubling"

According to the Times, the investors realised something was wrong and did not go through with the deal. Mr Watson has since apologised and said Mr Rao was suffering a "mental health crisis" at the time.

Yet amid growing scrutiny, Ozy this week said it had begun an internal investigation and Mr Rao had taken a leave of absence.

'Deeply troubling'

On Thursday, Mr Lasry, who owns the NBA basketball team the Milwaukee Bucks, stepped down after only three weeks as chairman.

In a statement he said: "I believe that going forward Ozy requires experience in areas like crisis management and investigations, where I do not have particular expertise."

He added that he remains an investor in Ozy Media.

On Wednesday, Ms Kay announced she had "no choice" but to cut ties, calling the New York Times' allegations "deeply troubling". The veteran broadcaster joined Ozy in June after more than three decades at the BBC.

On Friday, the Times published fresh claims about Ozy made by a former producer, Brad Bessey.

Mr Bessey, who was hired this summer to produce a talk show hosted by Carlos Watson, was reportedly told from the start it would appear in a prime time slot on the US cable network A&E.

Yet, he later found out A&E had rejected the show before it began taping, the Times said. Mr Bessey reportedly quit the firm, accusing Mr Watson and Mr Rao of playing "a dangerous game with the truth".

In the end "The Carlos Watson Show" show appeared on Ozy's own website and YouTube.

The BBC has contacted Ozy Media for comment.