FTC Emails Show Whitaker Fielded Gripes on Miami Firm

(Bloomberg) -- Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker was alerted to a series of customer complaints about a Miami company where he was on the advisory board, according to new documents released by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission.

The documents, produced Friday in response to Freedom of Information Act requests, contain internal correspondence among FTC investigators and provide a more detailed look at Whitaker’s actions at the company. While they show that he was contacted with concerns about company practices, they don’t show he misrepresented his role to FTC investigators, as Bloomberg incorrectly reported earlier Friday.

Whitaker, a former U.S. attorney in Iowa during the George W. Bush administration, agreed to cooperate with the FTC, according to an email. He also told an agency investigator that he hadn’t had contact with customers of the Miami-based firm, World Patent Marketing.

The FTC sanctioned the company in 2017, describing it as an “invention promotion scheme” and accusing it of “bilking millions of dollars from consumers.”

President Donald Trump appointed Whitaker acting attorney general this month after asking Jeff Sessions to step down. That appointment, outside the usual chain of succession, is now being challenged in several court cases.

Subpoena to Whitaker

Starting in March 2017, FTC investigators tried to contact Whitaker to discuss what he knew about the company, according to the documents.

In early October of last year, the FTC sent Whitaker a subpoena, seeking information related to World Patent Marketing. Whitaker eventually responded, saying he had just taken a new job at the Justice Department.

FTC investigator James Evans spoke to Whitaker on Oct. 24, by which time the former U.S. attorney had been named chief of staff for Sessions. In a summary of the conversation, which he shared with his FTC colleagues, Evans wrote that Whitaker said he was willing to cooperate with the inquiry.

Whitaker told the FTC that he “never emailed or wrote to consumers” in his consulting role, Evans wrote.

Former Associate

Bloomberg reported earlier Friday that Whitaker wrote to a critic. In that report, Bloomberg incorrectly characterized that recipient as a disgruntled customer.

In fact, the individual Whitaker wrote to was a disgruntled former associate of Scott Cooper, the company’s chief executive officer, according to court filings and a person familiar with the matter.

Whitaker wrote to the former associate of Cooper: “I am assuming you understand there could be serious civil and criminal consequences for you if that is in fact what you and your ‘group’ are doing.”

He pointed out that he was a former U.S. attorney in Iowa. “I am familiar with your background and your history with Scott,” Whitaker wrote. “Understand that we take threats like this quite seriously.”

Key Takeaway

A key takeaway from the FTC documents is that World Patent Marketing used Whitaker’s background as a U.S. attorney to impress potential clients and bully perceived enemies.

On Nov. 21, 2014, soon after Whitaker joined the firm’s advisory board, Cooper, the CEO, wrote an email to a brand building company with the subject line, “Let’s build a Wikipedia page and use Whitaker to make it credible.”

A 2017 script that was apparently used to woo clients notes the company’s “incredible advisory board” that includes “former U.S. Attorney Matt Whitaker who was appointed by George Bush.”

Aware of Complaints

Whitaker was aware of some of the complaints filed against the company, since several people contacted him directly, according to the emails provided by the FTC. On Sept. 8, 2015, Whitaker forwarded Cooper an email that said, “Dear Matthew can you get a message to Scott 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.”

A few weeks earlier, another person wrote, “Do not email me again with your scare tactics. I am a former United States attorney for the southern district of Brooklyn New York. So stop with your bull sh[--] emails. You are party too a scam that is driving allot of traffic to WPM site. You will be exposed.”

Aside from the misspellings, the author appears to be exaggerating his own credentials: There is no such thing as a U.S. attorney for the “southern district of Brooklyn.”

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