Alex Constantine - September 13, 2015
A pending lawsuit in the Manhattan Supreme Court charges that at least 600 former students of the now defunct Trump University, founded by leading Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, were scammed out of millions of dollars, $5 million of which New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman argues directly landed in the real estate mogul's pockets.
"As soon as I attended the first workshop, I knew I had been scammed," 75-year-old Robert Guillo told the New York Daily News. "Every single workshop, they charged you another amount. Everything was to get you to spend more and more and more."
Suits filed in both New York and California allege "students" got repeat come-ons to run up credit card debt and were pressured into purchasing increasingly expensive mentor-ships topping out at nearly $35,000 per person. Students were even advised to fudge their incomes to persuade credit card companies to increase their credit limits, the lawsuits charge.
The News adds an internal Trump U. document titled "surefire script to more purchasing power" suggested deliberately inflating actual income by adding in "projected" earnings.
The suit further alleges the end result was massive debt for hundreds of students, who also saw their credit scores significantly damaged -- and, in some cases, suffered even worse.
Kathleen Meese of upstate Schoharie said in a sworn affidavit that a Trump U. "mentor" pressured her to buy a $25,000 "elite" program.
When she initially hesitated, telling the mentor that she had a son with Down syndrome whose medical bills needed to be paid, she claims that she was pressured to "sign up for Trump Gold Elite for $25,000 to help my family. He said he had a son, so he knew how family meant everything to me."
The selling point for Meese came when she was assured that she would recoup the money within 60 days, prompting her to put the program on her card. The "mentor" also guaranteed her that he would be directly working with her until it became too late to seek a refund, at which point he sent over another mentor.
To date, Judge Cynthia Kerr has found Trump violated state education laws by calling his entity a "university" when it wasn't licensed as one. She will decide on possible restitution at a yet-to-be-scheduled hearing.
In addition, two more class-action suits targeting the school have been filed in California and are still pending.
Court documents allege two of the "mentors" designated as experts by the school had filed for protection from creditors under the bankruptcy act, after running up huge debts in failed real estate adventures, according to bankruptcy court documents.
"Donald Trump has charisma," Guillo said of Trump's now campaign slogan to "make America great again." He later added, "He's got the greatest persona of any of the Republican candidates and even the Democratic candidates. "And if you're not sophisticated, he makes a pitch before the Iowa fair and he gives a speech, they believe all this stuff. But when it comes down to solutions, he's not specific about anything. And people are buying it."
Trump Organization counsel Alan Garten has defended the institution as "a substantive, real program" that "offered people valuable training, valuable courses and valuable mentor-ships."
Several recent national polls place Trump ahead of a crowded Republican field in the fight for the 2016 GOP nomination.