Today President Donald Trump fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions and announced his chief of staff, Matthew Whitaker, would become acting attorney general. Whitaker is a former U.S. attorney in Iowa, but he was also involved in a Miami-based invention-marketing company the Federal Trade Commission shut down last year after calling it a scam.
Whitaker not only sat on the board of World Patent Marketing but also once sent a threatening email to a former customer who had complained after he spent thousands of dollars and did not receive the promised services. Court records obtained by New Times for a 2017 feature about the fraudulent company show that in an August 2015 email to a disgruntled customer, Whitaker touted his background as a former federal attorney and suggested that filing a complaint with the Better Business Bureau and "smearing" the company online could result in "serious civil and criminal consequences."
The new acting attorney general also evaluated a razor invention submitted to World Patent Marketing in a video the company shared on its Vimeo account three years ago, proclaiming it had a "simple design but a unique design."
Scott Cooper, the CEO and founder of World Patent Marketing, donated $2,600 to Whitaker's 2014 Senate campaign — just $100 shy of the limit for an individual to donate to a candidate. Internal records show the company paid him nearly $10,000 before the company was shuttered.
World Patent Marketing collected almost $26 million by promising starry-eyed inventors it would turn their inventions into best sellers. Company reps claimed invention ideas were reviewed by an illustrious board that included big names such as Whitaker, Republican Congressman Brian Mast, and time-travel scientist Ronald Mallett. (A Mast spokesman denied the congressman was on the board and said he never accepted compensation, though he did take a campaign contribution he later returned.)
Cooper and his company relied on the influence of the board members to attract customers — and to keep them in line. In an April 2016 email to an irate customer, he wrote, "Do you think all these powerful and influential people would join forces with me if what you said were true? We have former US Attorneys, members of President Obama's advisory council, military generals, famous doctors. Think about it." Scripts distributed to company representatives had them boast about the CEO's "incredible advisory board" and mention Whitaker by name.
At least a few board members simply took cash without meeting inventors or reviewing pitches. Some of the supposed innovations the company green-lit already existed, so patent applications were regularly denied. And despite the many supposed success stories listed on its website, virtually none of the firm's clients ever made money. Once customers paid, World Patent Marketing provided little of what was promised. And when customers complained or warned that they would write negative reviews, Cooper unleashed wild threats, sometimes mentioning Krav Maga-trained security.
Other threats came from Whitaker. In one email included in thousands of pages of documents New Times reviewed, he accused a customer of "possible blackmail or extortion" and threatened "serious civil or criminal consequences."
The feds alleged that thousands of would-be inventors — whose ideas included posterior-enhancing jeans, Bimini tops for lawnmowers, and fruit crossbred with marijuana — were ripped off in the scheme. They lost as much as $400,000 apiece; some spent their entire life savings.
After losing a 2014 Senate bid and leaving World Patent Marketing, Whitaker became a CNN commentator and penned op-eds claiming that Special Counsel Robert Mueller's probe has "gone too far" and that he would have indicted Hillary Clinton. He was named Sessions’ chief of staff in September 2017.
Cooper and World Patent Marketing settled with the Federal Trade Commission this past May. A judgment of $25,987,192 was entered in favor of the FTC. Cooper and World Patent Marketing were also banned from working in invention promotion.
Those who lost money in the scam are still waiting to receive any kind of compensation. Some were stunned by the choice of Whitaker.
Here's Whitaker's email:
And here is a ledger showing payments allegedly made to Whitaker:
Editor's Note: After publication, some people noted that A. Rutsky, to whom Whitaker addressed the email, might not have been a World Patent Marketing "customer." New Times searched local court records and dialed six numbers associated with this name, but could not locate the sender.
Jessica Lipscomb contributed to this report.