Matthew G. Whitaker, the acting attorney general of the United States, spent over a year on the advisory board of an “invention-promotion scam” firm that hawked Bigfoot paraphernalia, “masculine toilets,” and underwear with sophisticated marketing pitches like: "How are your balls feeling today?"
Whitaker’s unprecedented placement atop the Department of Justice has drawn outrage from legal experts on both sides of the aisle who argue his appointment is unconstitutional and threatens the independence of special counsel Robert Mueller, whom he now technically oversees.
But his work for World Patent Marketing — a company shut down by a federal judge this year after it was accused by the Federal Trade Commission of running "a scam that has bilked thousands of consumers out of millions of dollars" — has also sounded the alarm among politicians and legal officials. The company is under investigation by the FBI, according to the Wall Street Journal.
“It’s never a good thing when a law enforcement officer was employed by a company that’s under federal criminal investigation — much less the nation’s chief law enforcement officer,” said Renato Mariotti, a former prosecutor turned white-collar defense attorney.
Democrats in the House say they will launch an investigation examining Whitaker’s involvement with World Patent Marketing when they assume power in January.
Whitaker has denied any wrongdoing or knowledge of the alleged fraud at World Patent Marketing. “Acting attorney general Matt Whitaker has said he is not aware of any fraudulent activity,” Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said in a statement to VICE News. “Any stories suggesting otherwise are false.”
But the company’s public statements about his role suggests a relationship built on leveraging his reputation as a U.S. Attorney to defend it against charges of impropriety.
When Whitaker first joined the Florida-based company, in late 2014, a press release touted his role in “trying to educate and protect its inventors from patent troll scams and patent marketing fraud.” On Oct. 30, 2014, the company sent a press release headlined: “Former US Attorney Whitaker Joins World Patent Marketing to Protect Inventors From Patent Marketing Scam.”
“Whitaker’s connection with this company certainly raises red flags about his judgement.”
By December 2014, in another press release, he came to the firm’s defense: “As a former U.S. Attorney, I would only align myself with a first-class organization,” Whitaker said. "World Patent Marketing goes beyond making statements about doing business 'ethically' and translate those words into action."
On at least one occasion, Whitaker fired off an email to someone who’d complained about the company, noting his status as a former U.S. attorney and accusing the person of attempting to “smear” the firm.
And soon after he signed on, his name also began appearing in a string of press releases touting inventions and other promotions. During his time on the advisory board, he was reportedly paid at least $9,375.
The company’s Twitter account also traded in racist messaging and political outrage, and appeared to throw its support behind Trump, announcing plans in 2015 for a super PAC called Republicans Invent.
Oh, and it promoted a future where “time travel” technology was within reach.
“World-renowned physicist, author, and scholar Dr. Ronald Mallett believes time travel is possible, perhaps within the next decade…. World Patent Marketing has partnered with Dr. Ronald Mallett to make his vision a reality,” the company wrote in a caption on its Vimeo page.
“Whitaker’s connection with this company certainly raises red flags about his judgement,” Barbara McQuade, former U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, told VICE News. “And it raises questions about the thoroughness of the vetting process before his appointment as Attorney General.”
Below are a list of some of the ideas and products World Patent Marketing promoted before a federal judge forced its closure and ordered the firm to pay $26 million in this year.
—The hunt for Bigfoot. World Patent Marketing CEO Scott Cooper offered $1 million for proof of Sasquatch’s existence, while peddling Bigfoot dolls.
—A toilet specially designed for well-endowed men. “The distance between the rim and the water surface needs to be long enough to ensure there is no risk of contact,” the press release for the “masculine toilet” said.
—A sticky-dart gun, for mounting on the grill of a cop car. “When the officer gets within range of a fleeing vehicle, they simply pull the trigger and a sticky dart shoots out and attaches itself to the criminal's ride,” the press release says. Then the dart provides GPS coordinates of the fleeing suspect.
— An invention that combines weed with “fresh fruit,” whatever that means.
—Disposable underwear for women. A product called Kntrol Disposable Underwear was featured in a press release as “a personal care invention created for women to prevent leakage.”
— The next skinny jeans, which are apparently just big, bulky, workman jeans. “Hipster’s Skinny Jeans Are Out And World Patent Marketing’s Miller Industrial Jeans Are In For Hard Labor,” the company announced.
— Green Leaf Organic, an “alternative to smokeless tobacco and chewing tobacco,” which the company presented as a solution to a smoking habit.
— Whatever this is.
Cover image: Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker speaks to state and local law enforcement on efforts to combat violent crime and the opioid crisis in Des Moines, Iowa, U.S., November 14, 2018. REUTERS/Scott Morgan