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Former Trump U students describe lofty promises, paltry results

March 9, 2016 at 8:11 PM EST
On the campaign trail, Donald Trump often touts his business record as a presidential qualification. But one of the real estate mogul’s ventures has come under harsh scrutiny recently, as former participants in his Trump University online education company have filed class-action lawsuits against him, alleging fraud. John Yang talks to Michael Isikoff of Yahoo News for more.
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GWEN IFILL: On the campaign trail, Donald Trump often boasts of his business credentials to be president, never more than during a victory speech last night in Jupiter, Florida, held at one of his hotels.

DONALD TRUMP (R), Republican Presidential Candidate: I built a great, great company. I have very low debt. I have assets like this. This is owned 100 percent by me with no debt.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

DONALD TRUMP: You look at Doral, where we just had the major championship, I mean, I have a lot of things in Florida, partners with related or numerous jobs on the beach, very successful, partners with Gil and Michael Dezer on the beach, massive buildings.

Nobody ever talks about this stuff, and, you know, many, many jobs in New York, including the city on the West Side from 72nd to 59th Street, or on the Hudson River, one of the most successful projects ever built in real estate.

GWEN IFILL: But one of Mr. Trump’s ventures has come under especially harsh scrutiny in recent years.

John Yang explores.

JOHN YANG: Trump University was promoted as a way for aspiring real estate developers to learn the business from top instructors. As many as 7,000 people signed up, paying an estimated $40 million in fees.

The now-defunct for-profit seminars are the subject of three lawsuits, one brought by the state of New York, and two class-action suits in California brought by former students who say they were defrauded, because the high-priced classes didn’t deliver on the promises.

Investigative reporter Michael Isikoff has been looking into this for Yahoo News, and he joins us now from New York.

Michael, welcome.

MICHAEL ISIKOFF, Yahoo News: Good to be with you, John.

JOHN YANG: Michael, we talk about the promises and what they lived up to.

They offered handpicked instructors, handpicked by Donald Trump, and access to Trump secrets. Now, you talked to students who took these classes. What do they say actually happened?

MICHAEL ISIKOFF: Well, they say they didn’t’ get their money’s worth.

You know, in the promotional literature, there was language from Trump about how he would teach them to make a living — make a killing — I’m sorry — in the real estate market, he would teach his secrets to them, they would learn from the best of the best.

And what Trump University turned out to be was a series of ballroom seminars where people got sort of basics from these instructors, and then they were encouraged to put more money down, to max out their credit cards to the tune of $35,000, to pay for mentoring from these handpicked experts of Donald Trump.

And many of those who have filed complaints with the Better Business Bureau, with the state of New York, with other attorneys generals say they got very little for that. The handpicked experts seemed to know very little about thee real estate business, gave them bum advice, and in many cases seemed to fade away and they were unable to even get in touch with them.

So you had a lot of angry consumers out there who have brought these lawsuits.

JOHN YANG: Were you able to talk to any students who were satisfied? Donald Trump, of course, said that there were course evaluations. People said they were very satisfied. His attorneys say the same thing. Were you able to talk to any students who said that?

MICHAEL ISIKOFF: I didn’t personally talk to students who fit into that category.

The evaluation forms basically were based — came off the seminars, which were just a couple of hours and sort of routine forms that were handed out at the time. The real complaints came afterwards from those who went through the process of this mentoring, and that’s where they say they didn’t get their money’s worth.

Now, I’m sure we will hear in the upcoming trial — and it is important to note that there is a trial scheduled for this year on this matter — from people who will testify that they did have good experiences with Trump University.

But Trump’s lawyers have tried to make that point in a number of motions in these cases, and the — those motions for summary judgment to have these suits thrown out have so far being unsuccessful.

JOHN YANG: On the campaign trail, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz are trying to make this a campaign issue, a political issue, but the trial or the court cases is moving forward. What’s the status of that case?

MICHAEL ISIKOFF: Yes. Well, actually, I happened to stumble across the filings just a couple of weeks ago that kind of put this in play.

These lawsuits have been going on for several years now. They were originally filed back in 2010. And I — after the — Trump’s lawyers lost their motion on summary judgment, there suddenly popped up just a couple of weeks ago references to, first, a deposition that Trump had been — given in a case just last December, and then also references to pretrial conference, getting ready for trial, witness lists exchanged.

And on those witness lists, Donald Trump stands front and center. The last pretrial conference is May 6, and then the expectations are that the case will move to trial in August, which, curiously enough, is just a few weeks after the Republican Convention.

JOHN YANG: And he’s fighting the judge in this case, is he not?

MICHAEL ISIKOFF: Yes.

Well, as I mentioned before, he’s lost — his lawyers have lost their attempts to have the cases thrown out. And Donald Trump in one of his recent interviews and in a campaign appearance said, this is because the judge is biased against him.

Why does he believe the judge is biased against him? Because the judge, Gonzalo Curiel, the federal judge, been on the bench a number of years, is Hispanic, and Trump believes because of his stance about building a wall in Mexico, this has caused the judge to be biased against him in the Trump University lawsuit. And he indicated he may file a motion to have the judge recused.

I don’t know that having a judge recused based on his or her ethnicity is going to carry muster, though.

JOHN YANG: Well, Michael, I’m sure this is not going to be the last we talk about this or hear about this.

Michael Isikoff, thanks for joining us.

MICHAEL ISIKOFF: Thank you.

Editor’s note: The description of the video has been updated to correct the name of the guest from John Isikoff to Michael Isikoff.

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