Brenda Wilcox is a big-time President Trump supporter who believes his election has saved America. She's also a World Patent Marketing customer who lost $13,000 to the Miami Beach company that was shuttered by the Federal Trade Commission and forced to pay a $26 million settlement for scamming would-be inventors.
So she was disturbed to learn Wednesday that the president tapped a former advisory board member at the company to replace ousted Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
"I'm very disappointed, and I'm concerned that that's the type of person he would choose," said the Dania Beach stay-at-home mom, who turned to World Patent Marketing to design and promote a bracelet that would remind parents of babies in the back seat. "I do support Trump no matter what."
Several would-be inventors duped by World Patent Marketing were stunned by the news that former federal prosecutor Matthew Whitaker, who appeared in the company's marketing materials and sent a threatening email to a customer who complained, had risen to a top federal post. Others, however, believe that Whitaker himself was a victim of a slick con.
The invention promotion company bilked at least $26 million from thousands of customers before it was shut down in 2017, according to the Federal Trade Commission. In a settlement reached earlier this year, the massive judgment was ordered in favor of the FTC. World Patent Marketing and its CEO and founder, Scott Cooper, were also barred from the invention promotion industry.
Whitaker, who went on to enjoy a career as a cable news pundit and then as chief of staff for Sessions, was paid nearly $10,000 by the company. He authored an August 2015 email accusing a disgruntled customer of "possible blackmail or extortion" and threatened "serious civil or criminal consequences." The email was included in the FTC's court documents.
"Your emails and messages from today seem to be an apparent attempt at possible blackmail or extortion," the email read. "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."
The FTC's actions targeted only Cooper and the company, but Wilcox said she was alarmed that Whitaker's involvement went as far as sending such an email.
"In my opinion, that's still pretty shady," she said.
Another customer, Steve Harris, holds a different opinion. Though he wants Whitaker to turn over any compensation he received so that it can be distributed to those who lost money to the company, Harris believes the new acting attorney general, too, was scammed. Harris, a North Carolina resident who came up with an idea for inflatable bumpers to block items from rolling under couches, noted that Cooper once asked him to become a board member and that the alleged con man "manipulated everybody."
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"If Mr. Whitaker was guilty of something, I'd be the first one to jump on top of it," Harris said. "But he's only guilty of being victimized by someone who's really good at victimizing a bunch of people."
Crystal Carlson, who was also duped, agreed. She said in a statement that, like the customers who gave their money to World Patent Marketing, Whitaker was victimized by Cooper.
"He was able to convince thousands of people that his company was a great company and that he was doing great for the American inventor," she wrote. "Unfortunately Mr. Whitaker was victimized into allowing his face and name to be used for this scam. That should not be used against him."
If Whitaker was fooled by the fraudulent company, Harris posited, maybe he'd even be inclined to ensure Cooper and his company are criminally investigated. "I think I'd like to hear from Mr. Whitaker," he said.