The Trump University Scam

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I confess Trump’s ‘Trump University’ turned out to be a bit more sleazy and craven than I’d realized. Does anyone remember Tom Vu, the comical, endlessly parodied late night real estate seminar infomercial king from the 80s and 90s? Trump U seems to have been a rip off on that scale. Just look at this single passage from the Times first look at the documents released yesterday …

One sales manager for Trump University, Ronald Schnackenberg, recounted how he was reprimanded for not pushing a financially struggling couple hard enough to sign up for a $35,000 real estate class, despite his conclusion that it would endanger their economic future. He watched with disgust, he said, as a fellow Trump University salesman persuaded the couple to purchase the class anyway.

“I believe that Trump University was a fraudulent scheme,” Mr. Schnackenberg wrote in his testimony, “and that it preyed upon the elderly and uneducated to separate them from their money.”

At the risk of using that over-used phrase, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Trump U seemed explicitly organized to prey on the financially desperate and the elderly. As I noted yesterday, when Judge Curiel acceded to the Trump lawyers’ requests to delay the trial until after the election, one of the issues he had to contend with was that many of the claims are tied to elder abuse – i.e., specific fraud statutes that cover scams targeting the elderly.

That tells you a lot.

Another point is Trump’s repeated references to the testimonials students gave praising ‘Trump University’. At the risk of stating the obvious it’s hard to see these as much more than hostage videos in which students were pressured to give glowing reviews since they were explicitly told that Trump would take a personal interest in their careers. Think about it: why videotape the testimonials at all if not to guard against a situation like the current one? This article from March documents the extreme pressure placed on students to give positive reviews.

Some more choice examples from another Times piece in March …

Robert Guillo gave a glowing evaluation to his instructor at Trump University because, he said, the teacher pleaded for the best possible score, warning that without it, “Mr. Trump might not invite me back to teach again.”

Jeffrey Tufenkian offered excellent ratings because his Trump University-assigned mentor refused to leave the room until he did so, standing “right in front of me” as he filled out the evaluation form, he said.

John Brown tried to give his Trump University teacher a poor review — but said he was talked out of it by employees of the program, who called him three times, hounding him to raise his original scores.

As one of my colleagues has pointed out, this really isn’t terribly different from your standard get-rich-quick real estate seminar racket. But the people who run those usually don’t run for President. Perhaps more notable, would anyone worth $10 billion get into a racket like this?

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