The FBI and U.S. Postal Inspection Service have a criminal investigation underway against a company that paid acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker as an advisory board member who promoted the company, the Wall Street Journal and the Miami New Times first reported. The FBI doesn’t comment on active investigations.
Whitaker wrote at least one email on behalf of World Patent Marketing to a disgruntled customer citing his former job as a U.S. attorney and threatened the potential of “serious civil and criminal consequences.” He received $9,375 for his advisory role, and was owed $7,500, according to company records. The firm’s CEO also donated $2,600 to Whitaker’s 2014 Senate campaign in Iowa. Whitaker appeared in promotions for the company and his name and background was used as part of its telemarketing script.
The FBI’s Miami office is handling the investigation, according to a letter received from the FBI by a victim of the company, and reported in the Miami New Times. That puts Whitaker into a bind, as the FBI falls under his jurisdiction. With previous presidential administrations, Whitaker would immediately recuse himself from oversight, and legal ethics experts consulted by several publications agreed unequivocally.
President Donald Trump named Whitaker acting attorney general following Jeff Sessions’s forced resignation, a move that stunned those who had paid World Patent Marketing thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Customers received almost nothing of value in return, according to an FTC complaint and settlement. (Questions about the constitutionality of Whitaker occupying the role also remain outstanding.)
The FTC levied a complaint in March 2017 against World Patent Marketing and its CEO, Scott Cooper, alleging that Cooper had “bilked thousands of consumers out of millions of dollars.” Customers paid for services that promised to help them patent ideas and then market products based on those patents. The FTC alleged that nearly everything the company claimed about past successes and services offered was, ironically, invented.
In a settlement in May 2018, Cooper and his firm didn’t admit or deny allegations, but agreed to punitive terms, including a nearly $26 million judgement and a lifetime ban from offering invention promotion services in any fashion. The judgement was limited to about $1 million, provided it’s paid by year’s end and Cooper’s representations on finances to the court prove truthful.
However, the FTC complaint is similar to a civil lawsuit, and doesn’t involve criminal jeopardy.