Corrected: Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker had backed a patent marketing company as a paid advisory board member even as he fielded complaints from angry consumers who complained they had been scammed.
Whitaker began hearing complaints months after joining the board of World Patent Marketing in October 2014, according to documents from the Federal Trade Commission released on Friday in response to a public records request. His pay was set at $1,875 per quarter. The Washington Post and Bloomberg News have coverage.
Whitaker also wrote to a critic who was formerly an associate of the company’s founder and CEO, Scott Cooper. Bloomberg initially identified the person as a disgruntled customer, and said the writing indicated Whitaker misled the FTC when he said he never contacted the company’s customers. Bloomberg later corrected its story and said there was no indication that Whitaker had misled the federal agency.
World Patent Marketing was shut down as a result of a settlement with the FTC in May in which the company did not admit wrongdoing. The FTC had alleged the company collected nearly $26 million from inventors for patent and marketing services, while doing little for its clients, according to the Miami Herald, the Sun Sentinel and the Miami New Times. Some people lost their life savings, the FTC said.
The company touted Whitaker’s background as a former U.S. attorney in marketing efforts. Whitaker also had discussed appearing in a TV commercial for the company, although it’s unclear whether the ad was ever made.
Whitaker had mentioned his experience in his email to the former associate of Cooper, the CEO. The former associate claimed Cooper owed him money from a previous deal, according to the Washington Post.
“I am a former United States attorney for the Southern District of Iowa, and I also serve on World Patent Marketing’s Advisory Board. Your emails and message from today seem to be an apparent attempt at possible blackmail or extortion,” Whitaker wrote. “You also mentioned filing a complaint with the Better Business Bureau and to smear World Patent Marketing’s reputation online. I am assuming you understand that there could be serious civil and criminal consequences for you if that is in fact what you and your ‘group’ are doing.”
In other instances, Whitaker merely forwarded customer complaints to Cooper. One of them read: “Dear Matthew, can you get a message to Scoot [sic] Cooper you are on an advisory board but what you don’t know is how many people were scammed by him and how fraudulent they are and how much money they robbed from people. I am not happy and would love to meet him in person and show him how upset I am.” The letter ended with a threat of physical violence, according to the Washington Post.
Story corrected to reflect Bloomberg News correction that said there was no indication that Whitaker misled the FTC.