How Bad Are the Charges Against Trump University? Really Bad
Like “financial elder abuse” allegations, for instance.
How many major-party Presidential front-runners have faced trial on “financial elder abuse” charges as they rolled toward the nomination?
Chock up yet another first for the Teflon-plated real-estate mogul and reality-TV star Donald J. Trump. His now-discontinued Trump University operation has been accused not just of fraud, false advertising, and unfair business practices, but also of having used such tactics against vulnerable seniors in ways that violated special “financial elder abuse” statutes in California and Florida. The civil trial is currently on track to begin in August in federal court in San Diego, just a few weeks after the Republican convention concludes in Cleveland on July 21.
Seniors or not, many participants in the Trump University program obviously didn’t have lots of money to spare, and the idea of their having plowed so much money into courses on risky real-estate speculation is painful to contemplate.
“How many of you lost a lot of your 401(k) investment in the market?” a salesman would allegedly ask prospective students, following a script, before trying to cajole them into forking over $35,000.
“How many times do you go into Walmart, and you’re greeted by a guy or gal who is 70+ years old?” the salesmen would allegedly ask. “Do you want to be doing that when you’re 70 years old, or do you want to be playing golf and enjoying your retirement?”
The speakers also urged participants to “cash in” their 401(k)s, the plaintiffs claim, in order to make a higher return by following the steps laid out in the course.
In fairness, anybody can allege anything in a lawsuit. In their court papers, the defendants have denied targeting seniors or that their instructors followed scripts. Trump has stressed that the Trump U cases are just “civil” and “a small deal, very small.” He has repeatedly asserted that his university enjoyed a “98 percent approval” rate on satisfaction surveys—a claim he also advances on a website called 98percentapproval.com. The defendants deny any fraud, deception, or wrongdoing.
But after nearly six years of litigation, with discovery now complete, the charges have withstood several rounds of the dismissal motions that typically weed out frivolous claims. (In addition to the class action I’m referring to, in San Diego federal court, there are two other pending suits which aren’t as far along: a second class action in San Diego federal court, making civil racketeering charges, and an action filed by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, alleging fraud, false advertising, and other violations, and seeking $40 million in restitution.)