New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has
filed a lawsuitagainst Donald Trump and his eponymous “Trump University” for defrauding students looking to learn about the billionaire’s brand of business acumen.
The suit says that 5,000 students, many paying thousands of dollars, thought they would get to at least meet the Donald. Instead, they only got their picture taken with a cardboard cutout.
Between 2005 and 2011, Trump University swindled consumers into paying for a spate of expensive courses that did not deliver on promises to teach real estate investing techniques, the suit alleges.
“More than 5,000 people across the country who paid Donald Trump $US40 million to teach them his hard sell tactics got a hard lesson in bait-and-switch,” Schneiderman said in a statement. “Mr. Trump used his celebrity status and personally appeared in commercials making false promises to convince people to spend tens of thousands of dollars they couldn’t afford for lessons they never got.”
Schneiderman argues that Trump promised free workshops taught by his own knowledgeable, hand-picked instructors who were, in fact, nothing of the sort.
The free workshops were actually designed to get students to sign up for another three-day, $US1,495 seminar where Trump would supposedly appear in person, the suit alleges.
Those students were also pushed to sign up for a “Trump elite mentorship program” ranging from $US10,000 to $US35,000 a head.
Trump’s attorney Michael Cohen denied the charges, arguing they were purely political. “The attorney general has been angry because he felt that Mr. Trump and his various companies should have done much more for him in terms of fundraising,” Cohen said.
The writing was on the wall for Trump University years ago, when the New York Education Department said it was not licensed to call itself a university. It became “Trump Entrepreneur Institute” in 2011.
Here’s the full press release:
A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN SUES DONALD TRUMP, TRUMP UNIVERSITY & MICHAEL SEXTON FOR DEFRAUDING CONSUMERS OUT OF $US40 MILLION WITH SHAM “UNIVERSITY”
Trump Appeared In Ads That Falsely Claimed Trump University Would Use His “Handpicked Experts” To Teach Get Rich Real Estate Techniques, Bilking Students Out Of Thousands Of Dollars
A.G. Schneiderman: “No Matter How Rich Or Popular You Are, No One Has Right To Scam Hard Working New Yorkers; Anyone Who Does Will Be Held Accountable”
NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced that he has filed a lawsuit against Donald Trump, The Trump Entrepreneur Institute — formerly named Trump University LLC (“Trump University”), and Michael Sexton, former President of Trump University for engaging in persistent fraudulent, illegal and deceptive conduct in connection with the operation of Trump University.
Between 2005 through 2011, Trump University operated as an unlicensed educational institute that promised to teach Donald Trump’s real estate investing techniques to consumers nationwide but instead misled consumers into paying for a series of expensive courses that did not deliver on their promises.
“More than 5,000 people across the country who paid Donald Trump $US40 million to teach them his hard sell tactics got a hard lesson in bait-and-switch,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “Mr. Trump used his celebrity status and personally appeared in commercials making false promises to convince people to spend tens of thousands of dollars they couldn’t afford for lessons they never got. No one, no matter how rich or popular they are, has a right to scam hard working New Yorkers. Anyone who does should expect to be held accountable.”
The petition filed in New York Supreme Court in Manhattan by Attorney General Schneiderman details the advertisements run by Trump University in major newspapers across the country and the direct mail solicitations sent to entice consumers to attend a free workshop. These ads prominently displayed Donald Trump’s photograph and signature, or were styled as letters written by Trump himself. The advertisements were replete with false claims, including claims that consumers would learn “from Donald Trump’s handpicked instructor a systematic method for investing in real estate that anyone can use.” Other ads promised “my handpicked instructors will share my techniques” or “learn from my hand-picked expert” and “just copy exactly what I’ve done and get rich.”
An investigation by Attorney General Schneiderman revealed that Donald Trump did not handpick even a single instructor at these seminars and had little or no role in developing any of the Trump University curricula, or seminar content. The investigation also revealed that officials used the name “Trump University” even though they lacked the charter necessary under New York law to call themselves a University. They were also unlicensed under New York State Education Law, evading an array of legal protections designed to protect New Yorkers from fraud.
Even though Trump University was notified by the New York State Education Department (“NYSED”) as early as 2005 that these practices violated New York law, Trump University did not change its name until May 2010 and never received a licence to operate in the state. As a result, many students believed they were attending a University, when they were not. This misconception was reinforced by Trump University’s use of a University-like seal on much of its material and awarding diploma-like Certificates of Completion bearing Donald Trump’s signature.
Despite Trump University’s advertised claims, consumers attending free seminars did not learn Donald Trump’s real estate techniques. Instead, Trump University’s instructors made multiple misrepresentations to convince consumers to sign up for a $US1,495 three-day seminar. These misrepresentations included false claims about the three-day seminars such as:
- consumers would learn “everything [they] need[ed] to know” to become successful real estate investors;
- consumers would quickly recoup their investment by doing real estate deals, with some instructors claiming that consumers would earn tens of thousands of dollars within 30 days;
- instructors were “handpicked” by Donald Trump;
- consumers would be taught Donald Trump’s very own real estate strategies and techniques;
- consumers would receive access to private sources of financing (“hard money lenders”); and
- the three-day seminar would include a year-long “Apprenticeship Support” program.
Instructors also insinuated Donald Trump himself would appear at the three-day seminar.
In reality, many of the promises made at the free seminars went unfulfilled. Despite claims to the contrary, consumers who paid for and attended the three-day seminars were not taught everything they needed to know about real estate investing. For example, consumers did not receive substantive instruction on how to raise money from hard money lenders or receive an extensive “apprenticeship support” program. Instead of providing the sustained support promised by Trump University’s instructors, consumers were provided a list of lenders from a commercially available magazine. Instead of a personal appearance from Donald Trump as some consumers were led to expect, some participants got their photographs taken with a life-size photo of Mr. Trump.
Instead of providing all of the promised services, instructors used the three-day seminars to pitch consumers an expensive Trump Elite mentorship programs costing $US10,000 to $US35,000. Trump University promised that the mentorships provided one-on-one training during which students would have personal assistance until they executed their first real estate deal and recouped the cost of the program. While consumers were encouraged to call their credit card companies during breaks, to increase their credit limits to have access to funds to do real estate deals, the real reason Trump University asked consumers to request higher credit limits was so they could use the credit to pay for the expensive Elite programs.
Many consumers who made the costly investments did not receive the individual mentor attention promised. After an initial three-day session, many mentors failed to return phone calls or emails and provided little to no follow-up assistance. Despite diligent efforts, many consumers were unable to conclude even a single real estate deal and were left worse off than they had been before enrolling in the Trump University programs. Some consumers faced thousands of dollars of debt due to the expensive cost of the Elite Programs. Many felt they had been victims of an elaborate scam.
Trump University also committed violations of federal consumer protection law. Federal law provides a three business-day right of cancellation for the type of purchases at issue here, but Trump University repeatedly failed to honour consumers’ timely requests to cancel.
The lawsuit seeks full restitution for the more than 5,000 consumers nationwide who were defrauded of over $US40 million in the scheme, disgorgement of profits, as well as costs and penalties and injunctive relief prohibiting these types of illegal practices going forward.
Consumers with complaints against Trump University should file a complaint with the OAG. Complaint forms are available here.
The case is being handled by Assistant Attorneys General Tristan C. Snell and Melvin L. Goldberg, under the supervision of the Bureau of Consumer Frauds and Protection’s Deputy Bureau Chief, Laura J. Levine; Bureau Chief Jane M. Azia, and Executive Deputy Attorney General for Economic Justice Karla G. Sanchez.