Former executives call Trump University a scam ‘that preyed on elderly’

  • Yashwant Raj, Hindustan Times, Washington
  • Updated: Jun 02, 2016 00:00 IST
Trump attacked the overseeing judge in the university case, who is of Hispanic descent, accusing him of bias. (Reuters file photo)

The now-defunct Trump University has been called a “fraudulent scheme” that “preyed on the elderly” and a “lie” by former executives in court testimonies unsealed on Tuesday.

They narrated a pattern of aggressive marketing focussed on selling university products, often less useful than advertised, even to customers who had trouble paying for them.

“I believe that Trump University was a fraudulent scheme” which preyed upon the elderly and uneducated, Ronald Schnackenberg, a sales manager, wrote in his testimony.

Corrine Sommer, an event manager, recalled how colleagues pushed customers to use up as many credit cards as needed to pay for the courses. “It’s OK, just max out your credit card,” they said.

Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee for the White House, continues to defend the university, which is embroiled in three different lawsuits in California and New York.

Watch  | A promo video of Trump University featuring Donald Trump

He has argued that he could have settled the cases, but did not want to, and attacked the overseeing judge, who is of Hispanic descent, accusing him of bias.

“This should have been dismissed on summary judgment easily, everybody says it. But I have a judge who is a hater of Donald Trump, a hater. He's a hater," Trump said on Tuesday.

The real estate magnate was attacked over the university during the Republican primaries, but towards the end. Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, will be pushing it aggressively.

Her campaign on Wednesday bulk-emailed to supporters the copies of news reports based on the testimonies, and doubled down on them on social media.

Read | 75% of Americans said media gave Trump too much attention: Survey

A federal court in California unsealed the testimonies, which was opposed by Trump’s lawyers, filed in connection with a federal lawsuit filed by dissatisfied students.

The university, which is a defendant in two other lawsuits — one in California and the other in New York, was started by Trump in 2005, offering courses in entrepreneurship.

He was also the university’s central pitch. Promotional literature promised customers the benefit of Trump’s “experience, knowledge and wisdom” delivered by handpicked instructors.

Trump was less engaged with the institution than advertised — for one, he has said he did not handpick instructors.

Read | Top reason Americans will vote for Trump: ‘To stop Clinton’

According to sales guides issued to Trump University executives, called playbooks, customers were pitched a variety of programmes priced differently during free sessions.

A $1,495 ticket for a three-day workshop was promoted as a “all you need” start to get rich. But executives were instructed to push customers who bought in towards costlier courses.

Customers could upgrade, for instance, to courses with dedicated mentors ranging between $9,995 and $34,955, according to the university’s playbooks.

Schnackenberg recalled in his testimony he was pulled up for refusing to sell the $35,000 programme to a couple who would have had to draw upon disability allowance and loans to pay for it.

But a colleague, he said, made the sale. “I was disgusted by this conduct and decided to resign,” he wrote. 

Not all testimonies were negative though. “Trump University definitely made me more prepared to tackle the ‘real world’ of real estate investing,” wrote one student. 

“We really learned a lot of from Trump University and have found a modicum of success,” wrote another.

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