Whitaker’s Ascent at Justice Dept. Surprised Investigators of Firm Accused of Fraud

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WASHINGTON — As Federal Trade Commission lawyers investigated a Miami company accused of defrauding thousands of customers last year, they were stunned to learn about a new job for a figure in their inquiry, Matthew G. Whitaker: He had been named chief of staff to Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

“You’re not going to believe this… Matt Whitaker is now chief of staff to the Attorney General. Of the United States,” James Evans, an F.T.C. lawyer, wrote to colleagues in an email on Oct. 24, 2017.

The emails were part of a trove of files the trade commission made public on Friday in response to Freedom of Information Act requests for documents about its investigation into the company, World Patent Marketing. Mr. Whitaker sat on its advisory board.

In early November, President Trump fired Mr. Sessions and installed Mr. Whitaker as the acting attorney general. His appointment immediately prompted outcry in part because Mr. Whitaker had sharply criticized the special counsel investigation, which he now oversees as the nation’s top law enforcement officer. Democrats have expressed alarm and vowed to investigate Mr. Whitaker when they take over the House of Representatives in January.

Mr. Whitaker told the Federal Trade Commission last year that he wanted to cooperate with its inquiry, according to the files. The Justice Department did not respond to a request for comment on the F.T.C. files, but in the past, Kerri Kupec, a department spokeswoman, has said that “acting attorney general Matt Whitaker has said he was not aware of any fraudulent activity. Any stories suggesting otherwise are false.”

Long before most Americans had heard of Mr. Whitaker, the F.T.C. had been scrutinizing his connections to World Patent Marketing. The company had promised investors lucrative patent agreements but instead brazenly ripped them off. The agency’s investigation prompted a federal judge to shut down the firm in March 2017, and it was later fined nearly $26 million.

Mr. Whitaker served on the company’s advisory board from 2014 to 2017 and played a central role in its marketing scheme, the newly disclosed files showed. He was paid nearly $10,000.

Mr. Whitaker told Mr. Evans that he “acted as an outside lawyer from time to time” for the company and never emailed or wrote to customers, according to the files. As for his time on the advisory board, Mr. Whitaker said he never attended a meeting and traveled only once to Miami for a tour and dinner, which he described as a waste of time.

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