The Amazing Origins of the Trump University Scam

FILE- In this May 23, 2005, file photo, real estate mogul and Reality TV star Donald Trump, left, listens as Michael Sexton introduces him at a news conference in New York where he announced the establishment of Trum... FILE- In this May 23, 2005, file photo, real estate mogul and Reality TV star Donald Trump, left, listens as Michael Sexton introduces him at a news conference in New York where he announced the establishment of Trump University. Tarla Makaeff a yoga instructor, has had enough of Trump after six years fighting him in court. Makaeff, wants to withdraw from a federal class-action lawsuit that claims Trump University fleeced students with an empty promise to teach them real estate. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews, File) MORE LESS
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I want to tell you about an article that you simply must read. It’s about Trump University. But it’s a part of the story I at least was not at all familiar with – how what we now know as the Trump University real estate seminar scam grew out of a licensing deal Trump struck with one of the most notorious late night informercial get-rich-quick scammers of the early aughts. The article was published at the end of April in Ars Technica. Even though Ars is widely read and extremely well respected, it’s in the tech and science rather than the news and politics space. So that may account for what seems like relatively little discussion of this aspect of the story.

In any case, here’s the gist.

Back in the years before the financial crash there was a shady outfit called ‘National Grants Conferences’ created by the husband and wife team Mike and Irene Milin. It was your standard late night informercial scam hawking a mix of “free government money” there for the taking and quick real estate riches. Unsurprisingly the Milins were frequently in trouble with states’ attorneys general trying to kicking fraudsters out of their states.

So far no big surprise.

But according to the article, it was from the Milins that Trump got the idea for what became Trump University. And the case the authors make is pretty convincing. ‘Trump University’ actually predated the licensing deal Trump struck with the Milins by a year. But it was from the Milins that Trump first got and then refined the ideas behind the Trump University real estate seminars that are now the target of these lawsuits.

From the article

The booming industry of real estate investment seminar gurus—who by the early 2000s numbered in the dozens—made it clear that you could make big money selling a roomful of people at a time on the dream of easy riches. But seminar work itself was complex, ranging from managing teams of traveling crew members to keeping sales pitches just murky enough that law enforcement wouldn’t butt in.

Trump wanted a piece of the action, so he struck a licensing deal with the Milins in 2006. The couple created the “Trump Institute,” using much of the same pitch material and some of the same pitchmen.

The charges soon went even higher. In the spring of 2006, Wiseman and fellow NGC pitchman Saen Higgins began hawking Trump Institute, which promised to reveal the business mogul’s tools for real estate investing and entrepreneurship. (Wiseman didn’t return messages asking for comment. Higgins couldn’t be reached.)

That June, we saw Higgins address a crowd eager to learn Donald Trump’s money-making secrets. Much of the pitch, delivered in San Diego, was recycled NGC material, including his telling of Wiseman’s Utah grants story. The remainder was an extended riff on Donald Trump’s real estate acumen.

Though there were many similarities between the NGC and Trump Institute pitches, one thing had changed: the price. With the Trump name, membership had increased to $1,399.

Any more I could tell you would just recapitulate the fascinating detail of the Ars story. So just read the whole piece. It’s long but it’s fascinating. You’ll be amazed that Trump University is even sleazier than you’d imagined.

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