U.S. President Donald Trump's newly appointed interim attorney general was on the board of a company that threatened to use Israeli ex-special forces against people who complained in public against the fraudulent scheme the firm was running, the Daily Beast reported Wednesday.
Whitaker was named to the advisory board of World Patent Marketing, a patent marketing company, in 2014. According to the Daily Beast, the Federal Trade Commissioner sought a federal court order in 2017 to shut down the company for conning 1,504 inventors out of more than $25 million.
The FTC complaint stated that the company cultivated "a threatening atmosphere" by sending its victims emails describing a company "security team" of "all ex-Israeli Special Ops and trained in Krav Maga, one of the most deadly of the martial arts,'' the report said. Those emails reportedly threatened people by saying that their company had "the kind of guys who are trained to knockout first and ask questions later."
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When World Patent Marketing's victims considered going public about the scheme or seeking redress from law enforcement, the company responded "by threatening to file a lawsuit for extortion, defamation, and other causes of action," the FTC said. When one victim tried to get a refund, she was issued a letter threatening her that her request "constitutes extortion under Florida law."
An FTC press release said that "many customers ended up in debt or lost their life savings with nothing to show for it."
CNN reported that Whitaker's involvement in the company ran deep, noting that he sent a threatening email to an unhappy client himself, which the FTC filed in the case. In it, Whitaker accused the customer of "blackmail or extortion" for threatening to complain to the Better Business Bureau.
"I am a former United States Attorney for the Southern District of Iowa," Whitaker wrote in the email. "I am assuming you understand that there could be serious civil and criminal consequences for you," he told the client, in case he filed a complaint, adding: "Understand that we take threats like this quite seriously."
The owner of the company donated $2,600 to Whitaker's campaign when he was running for the U.S. Senate in 2014, CNN reported. In addition, the company paid Whitaker at least $9,375 from October 2014 to February 2016, and he was slated to receive $7,500 in 2016 and 2017, although it remains unknown whether he received that money, CNN said.
In May 2018, a federal judge issued a permanent injunction barring World Patent Marketing from conducting business and imposed a fine of nearly $26 million, the Daily Beast wrote.
It is unclear to which extent Whitaker was involved in giving the company advice, if at all. Two months after taking his position on the advisory board, Whitaker stated that "as a former U.S. Attorney, I would only align myself with a first class organization. World Patent Marketing goes beyond making statements about doing business 'ethically' and translate those words into action."