The Absolute Best, Most Terrific Reporting on Trump University
By Sarah Smith / ProPublica
This piece originally ran on ProPublica.
Trump University promised to help students get rich. Enrollees would study the wisdom of The Donald and get mentoring from other terrific businesspeople. But a class-action suit by former students and a suit brought by the New York attorney general allege that the unaccredited “school” mainly helped students part with the money in their wallets. (Trump has called the suits a “scam” and “thug politics.”)
The Los Angeles Times, December 2007
As subprime mortgages were skyrocketing in 2007, columnist David Lazarus noticed a Trump University ad promising to teach students how to make “millions in foreclosures.” So Lazarus went to class. The instructor had never bought a house in California, had been through bankruptcy, and had gone through foreclosure with his own home. After the column ran, Trump told Lazarus it was “inaccurate and libelous.” When Lazarus asked what the problem was, Trump said, “You’ll find out in court.” Trump never sued. But he did submit a letter to the editor, which he demanded that the paper run in extra-large print.
New York Daily News, May 2010
By 2010, 150 people had filed complaints with 22 states about Trump University, the New York Daily News found. The school had just received a D- rating from the Better Business Bureau. One former student in California complained she paid $80,000 for access to mentors who didn’t call her back. Another student, a New York City schoolteacher, said she lost her savings, maxed out her credit cards, and had nothing to show for it.
Politico, March 2016
A 2010 playbook for Trump University gave staff handy instructions: Like to how to rank students based on assets to determine who was most likely to buy more Trump University classes. Or what to do “if an attorney general arrives on the scene.” (Show them nothing unless they have a warrant and call someone named April Neumann “immediately”.)
The Daily Beast, March 2016
One Trump University instructor liked to tell students his “rags-to-riches” story: He was homeless in a subway at 19, where he met someone who taught him about real estate and became a top broker. He left out a few details, though: He threatened to kill his ex-wife and was convicted for aggravated assault. Trump once said he “hand-picked” the instructors and then changed his tune to say he doesn’t remember the employees.
The New York Times, March 2016
Trump likes to tout the 98 percent approval rating Trump University received from its students. But the surveys, according to legal documents and interviews with former staff and students, weren’t anonymous and were submitted to instructors in exchange for graduation certificates. One instructor said he asked students to fill out the survey in front of him. A former student said he was pressured by his mentor to give the mentor top ratings. (Trump has not backed down on the number. See his website: 98percentapproval.com.)
Ars Technica, April 2016
Before Trump University there was Trump Institute. And before Trump Institute there was the National Grants Conference, a seminar founded by Mike and Irene Milin that claimed it could teach students how to get government grants—for memberships at only $999. None of the NGC members got money, but NGC raked in millions from students. In 2006, Trump licensed his name to the Milins to create the Trump Institute. Trump Institute kept much of NGC’s old materials but promised to share the billionaire secrets. But the NGC soon fell into legal trouble in multiple states, and Trump didn’t renew the license with them in 2009. By that time, Trump University was well established, but still using the same tactics the Milins started at the National Grants Conference.
The Washington Post, May 2016
Donald Trump personally vetted ads and shaped the promotion of Trump University—contrary to what his lawyers had implied—according to the 2012 deposition of Trump University’s president. The deposition, part of a class-action lawsuit brought by former students, was released along with other trial records in response to a request from the Washington Post. Another document showed that a portion of Trump University speaker fees were directly tied to how many students the speaker could get to sign up for more seminars.
The Associated Press, June 2016
In September 2013, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi announced that she was considering New York’s investigation of Trump University. Four days later, a group supporting Bondi’s reelection got a $25,000 donation from a Trump family foundation. Bondi had personally solicited the donation. After the check came in, Bondi’s office announced that it would not join the investigation. Bondi has since endorsed Trump for president. Bondi declined to comment.
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