Matthew Whitaker was appointed acting attorney general after Donald Trump fired Jeff Sessions. Photograph: Allison Shelley/Reuters
Donald Trump’s new acting attorney general was part of a company accused by the US government of running a multimillion-dollar scam.
Matthew Whitaker was paid to sit on the advisory board of World Patent Marketing, which was ordered in May this year to pay a $26 million settlement following legal action by federal authorities, which said it tricked aspiring inventors.
Whitaker was appointed acting attorney general on Wednesday afternoon after attorney general Jeff Sessions was fired by Donald Trump.
Court filings in the case against World Patent Marketing show that Whitaker received regular payments of $1,875 from the Florida-based company, and sent a threatening email to a victim of the alleged scam.
Whitaker publicly vouched for the company, claiming in a December 2014 statement that they “go beyond making statements about doing business ‘ethically’ and translate those words into action.”
Whitaker, a former US attorney for the southern district of Iowa, said at the time: “I would only align myself with a first class organization.”
Whitaker’s role in the alleged scam was first reported by the Miami New Times in August 2017, shortly before he joined the Trump administration as a senior aide to Sessions.
World Patent Marketing and its founder, Scott Cooper, were sued by the Federal Trade Commission in March last year. The government said it had “operated an invention-promotion scam that has bilked thousands of consumers out of millions of dollars”.
The company was accused of tricking hopeful inventors into paying it thousands of dollars to obtain patents and licensing deals for their inventions. In fact, they “failed to fulfill almost every promise they make to consumers,” the complaint said.
Emails filed to federal court show that in August 2015, Whitaker cited his former role as a federal prosecutor in a threatening email to a customer of World Patent Marketing who had complained about the company to the Better Business Bureau.
“I am assuming you understand that there could be serious civil and criminal consequences for you,” Whitaker wrote in the email. “Understand that we take threats like this quite seriously.”
In May this year, a judgment requiring World Patent Marketing to pay the government $25,987,192 was entered against the company by a federal court in southern Florida. Whitaker was not named among the defendants in the case.
Cooper later agreed to hand over $1m in assets and the proceeds of the sale of his $3.5m home in return for the rest of the judgment being suspended.
Whitaker, who was appointed acting attorney general by the president shortly after the midterm elections, could not immediately be reached for comment.