Transcript for Music mogul works to help free the wrongfully convicted
It is the surprising side hustle of the man behind Katy Perry, Lorde, and kid rock. Not only does he have an eye for talent, but he also has one for injustice. Here's ABC's Elizabeth vargas. ??? Turn it up it's your favorite song ??? Reporter: You've heard of Katy Perry. "Chained to the rhythm" of her catchy hits like "I kissed a girl." ??? I kissed a girl and I liked it ??? but you probably don't know this man's name. It's Jason Flom. And he's responsible for launching Katy's career and dozens of others. Today the CEO of lava records is hanging out with wyclef Jean. ??? Wrongly convicted just ain't right ??? the audience is a bit unusual. It includes a man who set up this barber shop after spending 20 years behind bars for a crime he didn't commit. I was wrongfully convicted at the age of 17. Reporter: Turns out the music mogul, who's been wildly successful at launching hitmakers, gets his inspiration from exonerees. I'm fascinated by their stories and I'm fascinated by their strength and their courage and their spirit. Reporter: Flom is a founding board member of the innocence project, a non-profit that uses DNA evidence to exonerate the wrongfully convicted. To date the group has helped free almost 200 people. You have a fascinating job and yet you have found this whole other second existence in the innocence project. Why is this such a passion for you? We have two separate systems of justice in this country, one if you have money and one if you don't. And that is a fundamental inequity that has to be addressed. Reporter: Many innocence project clients have been guests on Flom's podcast called "Wrongful conviction." I walked past the guy's cell, he's hanging there. The scene you're describing makes shawshank redemption sound like a Disney movie. Main goal for me of the podcast is to open the minds of the audience, every one of whom is a potential juror. There is a healthy segment of the population in this country that says if you're in prison you're guilty. What I say to those people is you need to learn. You need to educate yourself because it could happen to you. Reporter: Today instead of walking the red carpet Flom is walking into sing-sing, the notoriously dangerous maximum security prison in westchester, New York. He's here to see convicted killer John Adrian, or J.J. Velasquez. Give you a hug, by the way. Reporter: Velasquez is an innocence project client, serving 25 years to life for the murder of a retired police officer. Flom believes Velasquez when he says he's innocent. He's a wonderful person. He's been helping me out right now in obtaining clemency possibly. We did a podcast in the end of January. The suspect they were looking for was a black male with dreads. Right? Right. Have you ever been a black male or had dreads? Maybe in another life. They built a case against him which when you look at the facts makes absolutely no sense. Reporter: Flom's pursuit of justice seems to be in his DNA. His father, Joseph Flom, was a prominent mergers and acquisitions attorney. Your dad was a lawyer. Big-time lawyer, actually. He was a great inspiration to me. He said do whatever you want to do. Try to be the best at it. But just make the world a better place. Reporter: He wanted to be a rock star, but his mom said he need odd a real job, so he started at the bottom of the music industry ladder, hanging up posters in record stores. Staple gun and double-sided tape. The tools of the trade, right? I was able to find a band and convince my boss to sign them. We put the record out, and it exploded. Reporter: Flom went on to sign a who's who of rock and roll at atlantic records and then virgin records. ??? We're not gonna take it ??? twisted sister, stone temple pilots, and kid rock to name a few. How do you know when you listen to a song that art involvement has something? Once in a while you get that tingly feeling. You have to act on that instinct. ??? We'll never be Royals ??? Reporter: That instinct kicked in when he heard this song, "Royals," by a then unknown New Zealand teenager named Lorde. She was already Lorde. I mean, she was born to do this. Reporter: But there was a California girl he almost missed. Katy Perry, you almost passed on her, didn't you? She walked in, and immediately I thought this girl's a star. And then I played it for my senior staff. Most of them were like, this is horrible. And I was listening to Katy on my headphones, and I was like, oh, my god, I'm an idiot. I think I totally screwed this up. Like she's brilliant. Reporter: Flom's intuition has made him a trendsetter. They said I was robbing a dice game, which was a joke. You know. Reporter: His podcast "Wrongful conviction" now recording its third season taps into the current cultural fascination with whodunits and who didn't do its. They put me in this predicament with this guy, either he was going to kill me or I was going to kill him. Reporter: For Flom it all started in the 1990s. When he read a newspaper article about a young man sentenced to life in prison for a non-violent first offense drug crime. He wasn't innocent. But I just thought the sentence was so wildly disproportionate to what he had done. Reporter: So Flom picked up the phone and called an attorney friend who took the case pro Bono and eventually got the man released from prison. The lights went off in my brain. I said this is my purpose in life. There's half a million people in jail in America that haven't been convicted of anything but they can't post braille. Then of course Cal yves Browder relate brought it to light. At age 16 caliph Browder was sent to rikers island for allegedly stealing a backpack. His $3,000 bail was way too much for his family to pay. I didn't rob nobody. You didn't? No. Reporter: Browder turned down a plea bargain on principle. You're not going to make me say I did something just so I could go home. Reporter: He was an exception. More than 90% of defendants who wait in jail without posting bail will plead guilty, even if they didn't commit the crime. Browder was never convicted and eventually he was released. But the brutality of rikers stayed with him. Just two years after he got out he hanged himself at his home in the bronx. Some of the most violent, dangerous institutions in the country are actually jails, like rikers island. People will plead guilty to things they didn't do. Reporter: Because of stories like caliphs Flom helped create the bronx freedom fund, the first charitable bail fund for new yorkers charged with low-level offenses. 97% of our clients have shown up for every court date. Which totally destroys the myth that we need cash bail in order to compel people to show up for their court dates. Place was full of blood already. Reporter: Today Flom's recording a new episode of his podcast. His guest, Antoine day, was convicted for a killing that happened in Chicago while Antoine was in New Orleans. You were 1,000 miles away. Right? Right. When the thing happened. Reporter: Antoine served ten years before getting a new trial and having the charges against him dropped. I appreciate you having this platform. For a guy like myself to be able important. I feel a very heavy sense of responsibility to do as much as I can for as long as I can. And that's exactly what I'm going to do. Reporter: For "Nightline" I'm Elizabeth vargas in New York.
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