Trump U: The lawsuit Donald Trump will be facing this summer

February 26, 2016
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Fort Worth, Texas, February 26, 2016.  REUTERS/Mike Stone

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Fort Worth, Texas, February 26, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Stone

Imagine getting a personal letter direct from Donald Trump. It’s on nice paper and offers you an exclusive opportunity to learn how to get rich in real estate — directly from the master and his chosen apprentices.

Instead, plaintiffs in a suit against Trump University, say they got little other than huge tuition bills and a chance for a photo with a life-size cutout of Trump himself.

These are just some of the details journalist Steven Brill uncovered while looking through the litigation surrounding the now-defunct Trump University. Trump denies any wrongdoing in the case.

Brill’s investigation appeared in Time magazine in the middle of November, and didn’t receive a lot of fanfare. But the details are striking and Brill sees clear similarities between how Trump University was run and how Trump the candidate is running his presidential campaign.

What follows is an interview with Brill, which has been edited for length and clarity.

What was Trump University and what did it promise students?

The evidence in the case — even the evidence submitted by the defense, by Trump –indicates it’s a scam. The core of the case is that Trump sent these personal letters and emails to people saying, “Would you like to be my next apprentice?”

A personal letter from Donald J. Trump sent to his favorite 10 million people. It promised he would be personally involved and that these would be his secrets of how to make money in real estate by flipping foreclosed properties and stuff like that. [Students would] learn from his personally hand-picked professors at this university.

The plaintiffs sued him personally as well as sued Trump University, because Trump University is just a shell. The defense moved to get [Trump] removed from [the suit] because the defense said he didn’t really didn’t have anything to do with Trump University, which totally contradicts all of the marketing. But the judge wouldn’t let that happen. So he’s personally on the hook as well as Trump University, LLC. Trump owned 98 percent of the shares of the company.

Who attended these courses?

Middle-class and lower-middle-class people, during desperate economic times were being offered the secrets of Donald Trump’s success. You could argue that the real secret of his success was that he was born the son of Fred Trump, so that he inherited hundreds of millions of dollars. But that’s not what they emphasized here. They were targeting, with really elaborate detailed marketing gimmicks, exactly the people who are now voting for him.

The letters offered a free two-hour seminar about how to make money in real estate. So people who would go to these were largely retirees, retired firemen, sanitation men, cops. You’d go to the free two-hour seminars. But according to the scripts that were written by Trump and his people, the whole purpose of the two-hour seminar was to upsell you into a [$1,495] one-day program, the whole purpose of which was to upsell you into the [$34,995] program.

What did people end up getting?

It was elaborately detailed. He is a good manager. His companies pay fine attention to detail and the details here, according to the documents, were how to bait and switch these people from the free two-hour seminar up to a $35,000 one. Even in the script, they would tell people during a break to call their credit card company and get their credit raised. They said that you’re going to want to get it raised so that you could make an investment. In fact, the investment they were going to ask you to make was in — guess what — a $35,000 Trump course.

When it comes time for him to be sued, and when the press asks him about these suits he says 98 percent of the people filled out feedback cards saying that they loved the program.

There are two problems with that. The first is that they were asked to fill out feedback cards by the people who were teaching them while [the instructors] were looking over their shoulders while they were filling them out. They were providing feedback for the free program. They obviously liked the free program because that was what made them sign up for the programs that cost money. It wasn’t until they went through the $35,000 program and realized they hadn’t gotten rich. That’s when they started to go to lawyers.

Now thousands of people are suing him. He claims they give refunds. A third of the people [who took the pay courses] asked for and were given refunds. If 98 percent were satisfied, why would a third of them be getting refunds?

Do you see similarities to between what happened at Trump University to what’s going on in the campaign?

The marketing material said, I’m going to get the smartest people to do this like promising Carl Icahn is going to work on China. The smartest people are going to be doing this for you, it’s going to be great, you’re going to be a winner. It’s exactly the same marketing cadence and pattern as the presidential campaign. The difference is that people were tapping their credit cards out for $35,000 dollars.

Senator Marco Rubio woke up to the idea that the way to question Trump’s credentials is to look at ow has he helped or has not helped the very people whose votes he seems to be getting. This is by far the best example. A massive marketing campaign, just like a presidential campaign, and a judge compared it to selling snake oil.

If Trump is the nominee, the case will have an impact; This trial is now scheduled for the summer and this judge has said he’s not delaying it.

Trump’s view

“The article is not by any means a balanced account of the case. [Trump] was the owner and appropriately involved in that capacity. Other highly qualified people were running the school and they did it well. The facts of this case will disprove all of the plaintiffs’ claims and accusations,” one of Trump’s attorneys, Daniel Petrocelli, said about both Brill’s article and the case in general.



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Non-issue in the big picture. Who cares?. Just another distraction on his March to the Whitehouse, and I guess Hillary has no skeletons in the closet, or any or the other canididates.

Posted by cheeze | Report as abusive

Money and prestige are obviously all that Trump cares about…
If you had been hopeful that he could help America,
(or any of the “suckers” like us),
now would be a good time to rethink your vote.

Posted by TiredOfBS_2 | Report as abusive

20 years eligible to vote never voted , will vote for a first time only beecause my heart goes Trump-Trump-TrunmTrump-Trump. The rest are Zika virus survivors.

Posted by Macedonian | Report as abusive

‘Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups.’
– George Carlin

Posted by UauS | Report as abusive

So what?

Posted by OskarNuts | Report as abusive

So,people who wanted to get rich sought out schooling from a rich person to learn how to get rich … paid rich person … didn’t get rich … and now want their money back. That’s the gist … right? I don’t feel much sympathy for the students or disdain for the school.

Posted by rg1969 | Report as abusive

Donald Trump is for the people who don’t wash their hands after they use the bathroom.

Posted by Calvin2k | Report as abusive

So, some people are upset because they paid Trump to teach them how to get rich like them and failed and now they are suing. What happened to caveat emptor? I learned that in elementary school.

Posted by rg1969 | Report as abusive

Anderson Cooper interviewed numerous people who were defrauded by Trump. Apparently, several additional fraud cases are still pending against him in US courts. But then every American has always known all about him. So we really should not be surprised. The Republicans of my youth used to be such decent, stalwart, patriotic folks. Whatever happened to them? It is really astonishing that they keep coming with these weird people that will lose them the election every time. Kasich is the only one who could do a decent job, but the “great unwashed” don’t like him. Trump behaves like Mussolini and Putin – I am just waiting for him to take his shirt off.

Posted by pbgd | Report as abusive

“Nobody ever lost by underestimating the intelligence of the American people.”
(P.T. Barnum)

Posted by pbgd | Report as abusive

pbgd – the quote is actually “Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.” and was said by H. L. Mencken
a US editor who brought to the America tabloid journalism. He was, ineffect, the father of Fox “News”.

Posted by JosBlow | Report as abusive

pgbd’s heart is in the right place, but the quote is by H.L. Mencken and not P.T. Barnum.

The correct quote is:
“No one in this world, so far as I know — and I have searched the records for years, and employed agents to help me — has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people. Nor has anyone ever lost public office thereby.”

No cheap ploy to make money or feed his manical ego is beneath Trump. Mammon is his god while intellectualism and morality are beyond his ken. He is desperately clever and his manipulations of the voting public, Republican party and Presidential election are unparalleled in American history – a tribute to his Machiavellian mastery of the media and understanding of the simplistic electorate’s concerns. It is a public kick in the teeth for his opposition – revealed to be shallow, inept and easily distracted. Only (should the dreadful scenario arise that he is Hilary’s opponent) would I vote for him – a choice between Ebola and the Pest.

God save America.

Posted by CartierB | Report as abusive

All the people who think they want Trump do not really want Trump. He expresses their anger, so they love him, but in reality he is part of the problem, not the solution. Read this article again and again, because that’s who he really is.

Please, good people, vote for a real candidate with humility, civility, HONESTY and a reverence for the office of President, who sees himself as a servant, not a boss.

Posted by sanecomments | Report as abusive

Amazing how out of touch the people are that think trump can win the White House. Dump Trump.

Posted by Whipsplash | Report as abusive

Trump University. Haha. Bet they did some important and hard-hitting research.

Trump diploma is like another medal pinned onto a Mexican general’s uniform.

Posted by Solidar | Report as abusive

Another debate, and again trump proved he is the biggest dick in the room.

Posted by Whipsplash | Report as abusive

Here’s the catch 22. Like anything else, you have to have money to make money. If you have even 10k in your hands.. I show you how to never do real work again.. And so could they, and they charged 35,000 for all the knowledge. It was a fair price, but people who now couldn’t afford to put the plan into action without their seed capital, wanted to get the money back. There are markets secrets, right out in plain sight, most people don’t understand how to use what’s available to them. The program was fair, the marketing was aggressive, but the Brand and the Knowledge were worth the price. Once there is a class action, everyone jumps on the band wagon for a pay day. It is not going to happen! Buyers remorse because you need the money back to invest properly is not the schools fault. They failed to negotiate a better deal, I think they learned a bonus lesson!

Posted by Mike_Tedeschi | Report as abusive