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Scandal

Yesterday, the US attorney’s office in the Eastern District of New York announced corruption charges against two former senior executives of 21st Century Fox as part of the long-running investigation into the 2015 FIFA scandal.

One of those execs is Hernan Lopez, now the CEO of Wondery. The charges, which include bribery and money laundering, date back to Lopez’s time as the head of Fox International Channels between 2011 and 2016.

“I am shocked to hear about these allegations,” said Lopez, when reached for comment. “The indictment includes a single paragraph that alleges nothing remotely improper. While I am sure the process I will have to go through will be very painful for me and my family, I am looking forward to a jury confirming my innocence following a trial.”

Jen Sargent, Wondery’s Chief Operating Officer, said, “Wondery is shocked to learn about these unfounded allegations against our Founder and CEO. Mr. Lopez denies all charges and looks forward to vigorously defending himself. We have complete faith in the US justice system and look forward to Mr. Lopez’s innocence being confirmed by a jury.”

Here’s the Los Angeles Times write-up on the charges, and I recommend following the reporter Ken Bensinger on Twitter on the subject, as he’s written a whole book about the FIFA scandal. If you’re unfamiliar with this sprawling story and need a place to start, hit up this brief Vox explainer.

As you probably already know, Wondery is one of the buzzier podcast businesses out on the market, with a track record that includes shows like Dirty John and Dr. Death. Lopez founded the company in early 2016 with backing from Fox, and the Los Angeles-based operation has since raised a few subsequent rounds of funding. The most recent of which was a $10 million raise announced last summer, which valued the company at more than $100 million. Its investors include Lerer Hippeau, Greycroft, BDMI, and Advancit Capital. The money and pedigree is such that, when Spotify embarked on its pre-COVID-19 charge on podcast acquisitions, industry folk often thought of Wondery as a likely pick-up.

Over the years, the company has become somewhat synonymous with the podcast-to-television adaptation pipeline (see here, here, and here, among others). It has also pushed to become a primary face of podcasting, an effort that includes its involvement in creating the Podcast Academy and Podfront, the joint venture it formed with Stitcher to expand American podcast sales abroad to Europe. Wondery is also known for amassing a number of partnerships with respected media companies, including the aforementioned Los Angeles Times (Dirty John, Detective Trapp) and Bloomberg (The Shrink Next Door). Through its cumulative creative output, the company has developed a reputation for specializing in a certain type of show: often sensational, often tawdry, often leaning hard into the broadest of true crime. Indeed, the joke has been made that this very scandal is the kind of thing that Wondery would’ve made a podcast about.

The company has also had its share of controversies. It used to have a distribution partnership with Sword & Scale, the true crime show fronted by a host notorious for his considerable history of making derogatory statements against women and the LGBTQ community. Back in February, the company ran into attribution issues around WeCrashed, its documentary series on WeWork, when the author and podcaster Rich Roll accused the company of improperly using clips from an episode he had published.

We’ll be keeping an eye on this story as it continues to play itself out, obviously. This is the biggest scandal we’ve had in the podcast world in a while — it’s certainly bigger than that one time when the former CEO of PodcastOne was sued for allegedly pulling out a gun to intimidate someone over podcast analytics. Lopez, along with the others charged, is expected to be arraigned in Brooklyn later this week.