Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker continued to promote a Miami-based patent company accused of defrauding millions of dollars from consumers even after he personally received complaints from some customers, documents released Friday by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission show.
According to the Washington Post, some consumers of World Patent Marketing lost significant amounts of money to the company and directed their complaints to Whitaker, a former U.S. attorney, because he was sitting on its advisory board.
The FTC eventually filed a complaint against the company in 2017, describing it as an “invention promotion scheme” and accusing it of falsely claiming that it would help its clients profit from their inventions, according to Bloomberg. In May, a federal court in Florida ordered the company to close down and pay a settlement of more than $25 million.
But Whitaker had remained an enthusiastic proponent of the company for three years. He joined the advisory board in October 2014 and began receiving complaints in April 2015. He appeared to forward complaints on but take no other action, the Post reported. According to court documents, Whitaker collected around $10,000 from the company in fees. (A court receiver overseeing the FTC settlement told the Post that Whitaker was asked to return the fees to reimburse customers but did not.)
The founder of World Patent Marketing, Scott Cooper, repeatedly touted Whitaker in marketing material and in emails written to respond to critics and impress potential clients. In 2014, just after Whitaker joined the advisory board, Cooper wrote in an email, “Let’s build a Wikipedia page and use Whitaker to make it credible.”
According to the Post, Whitaker was unhelpful in the FTC investigation, missing a deadline to respond to a subpoena and ultimately never providing any records.
A Justice Department spokeswoman had said in a previous statement that Whitaker “has said he was not aware of any fraudulent activity” and that “any stories suggesting otherwise are false.”
Whitaker’s appointment as acting attorney general has been controversial, and several court cases have been filed to challenge its legality.