Started in 2005 by Donald Trump, Trump University was supposed to be an opportunity for students to be mentored by real-estate experts handpicked by Trump, learn Trump’s real estate strategies, and perhaps even experience a guest appearance from “the Donald” himself. But today, Trump University finds itself in the courthouse more often than in the classroom: it’s currently facing three lawsuits—two class action lawsuits in California and one in New York.
The lawsuits against Trump University allege the organization defrauded consumers. However, lawsuits against Trump have not stopped him from dodging the facts. Just this past Monday, March 7, Trump released a YouTube video in which he shows a piece claiming the Better Business Bureau gave Trump University an “A” rating. No less than a day later, the Better Business Bureau released a response statement saying: “During the period when Trump University appeared to be active in the marketplace, [Better Business Bureau] received multiple customer complaints about this business. These complaints affected the Trump University BBB rating, which was as low as D- in 2010.”
In fact, Trump University is not even technically a university. When Trump started the program in 2005, the New York State Department of Education issued a warning that the program was in violation of operating without a license from the department. Trump ignored the warnings until a 2010 mandate from the Department of Education to change the name. Trump University then became the Trump Entrepreneur Initiative.
Despite Trump University’s run-ins with the law, could the program still have been beneficial to the over 5,000 people who took part? After all, Trump’s fame stems from his image as a real estate mogul, and Trump University’s instructors were supposedly handpicked by Trump. And yet, in a 2012 deposition, an executive of the program said that “none of [the] instructors” were handpicked by Trump. The program also advertised the possibility of a visit from Trump, but he never actually showed up to a seminar. Instead, in a deposition last December, Trump distanced himself from the program as much as possible, suggesting under oath that he was not very involved in the program despite his attorneys saying otherwise.
Trump University’s method was simple: first offer a free 90-minute seminar. At the seminar, the program would convince prospective students to sign up for increasingly expensive seminars, starting at $1,495, and going all the way up to the Gold Elite program, which cost a cool $35,000. Some students who attended Trump University said they spent $20,000 on the program. The lead plaintiff of one of the lawsuits in California, Tara Markaeff, said she spent more than $60,000. According to The Atlantic, the private and confidential playbook for Trump University “focuses on the seminars’ real purpose: to browbeat attendees into purchasing expensive Trump University course packages.” One of the only requirements for students? That their payments are received in full. As The Atlantic so succinctly put it: “Basically anyone with a valid credit card was ‘admitted’ to Trump University.”
The playbook was also prescient. Perhaps knowing that its practices would one day lead to lawsuits, the Trump University confidential guide noted: “If a district attorney arrives on the scene, contact the appropriate media spokesperson immediately.”
Currently the New York lawsuit alone represents 5,000 victims who say Trump scammed them out of thousands of dollars. If Tara Markaeff wins her lawsuit in California she could win up to $40 million. Though Trump stands to lose the most moving forward, it’s important to remember the thousands of people who have already lost through investing their money in the predatory Trump University.