A lot of questions have been asked about Donald Trump. And while the Republican establishment is looking for any way to stop him, something from his past has been raised without much real media attention, something called Trump University.
What was that? And was it really a huge scam?
This is a Reality Check you won’t see anywhere else.
“People borrowed money and they signed up for this fake university,” Sen. Marco Rubio said. “These people owe all of this money and they got nothing in return for it but you you were willing to say what ever you had to say to get them to give you their money.”
Trump University registered as a private company in New York in October 2004. It was largely shut down by 2011. But the truth is, it was never a university.
Shortly after being created, the New York State Education Department warned that Trump University was in violation of state law for operating without a NYSED license.
Trump ignored the warnings, but later the name was changed to the “Trump Entrepreneur Initiative.”
So how did Trump University work? According to the New York lawsuit which represents over 5,000 plaintiffs alone, plaintiffs in the case say they were scammed out of anywhere from $20,000 to $60,000 per person. So how were they allegedly scammed?
Check out the ad for Trump University starring “the Donald” himself: “These are all people that are handpicked from me. You’re just not going to make it in terms of success.”
And that’s what the ex-students say was not delivered. Despite what was said there by Trump himself that students would be “mentored” by “handpicked” real estate experts, who would use Trump’s own real estate strategies, that didn’t happen.
According to the New York complaint, none of the instructors were “handpicked” by Trump. Trump “‘never’ reviewed any of the program materials.”
In fact, those materials were “in large part developed by a third-party company that creates and develops materials for an array of motivational speakers and seminar and timeshare rental companies.”
Senator Rubio commented, “One of them by the way worked at Buffalo Wild Wings. And that’s who they hired to do this.”
For his part, Trump says that this is just a desperate attack from Republican insiders.
“Just so you understand, this was a case I could have settled very easily but I don’t settle cases when I’m right,” he said. “98 percent approval rating. ‘A’ from the BBB [Better Business Bureau]. 98 percent rating from people who took the course. ‘A’ from Better Business and people like it.”
But that’s not true either. Based on the Internet Archive, the last time the Better Business Bureau gave the university any rating at all was 2010, when it gave it a D-minus.
As the company appeared to be winding down, no new complaints were reported. Complaints over three years old automatically rolled off of the business review. As a result, over time, Trump University’s BBB rating went to an ‘A’ in July 2014 and then to an ‘A+’ in January 2015.
On top of that, in a sworn deposition, the director of operations for Trump University Mark Covais conceded that nearly one third of students who took three-day seminars from Trump’s instructors demanded and received refunds.
Trump University, it turns out, had issued 2,144 refunds to 6,698 attendees of the $1,495 three-day program. That translates to 32 percent of total attendees.
So what you need to know is that because the case is moving forward, Trump himself may be required to testify in San Diego during this presidential election.
These cases could actually drag during the presidency if Trump were elected. And Trump is right that this is just a civil case. It is not a criminal case.
But it is a fair question to ask the question Trump’s competitors have been asking: if Trump could make millions from people going through a fake university program that simply fleeced them of tens of thousands of dollars each, can you trust that our country isn’t getting fleeced during this campaign?
That’s Reality Check. Let’s talk about that on Twitter @BenSwann_