Op-Ed: New York AG Eric Schneiderman fired up to beat purported Donald Trump U fraud

Op-Ed Published in the New York Daily News

By Eric T. Schneiderman

This weekend, my office sued Donald Trump and his sham for-profit college for defrauding more than 5,000 consumers out of $40 million.

Trump has answered with outlandish accusations. That’s not surprising for a showman who has built a career around bluster and hype. But I am not in the entertainment business; I am in the justice business.

This lawsuit is part of an investigation into for-profit colleges by my office’s Bureau of Consumer Fraud and Protection. One school, Career Education Corp., last week entered into a $10 million settlement after admitting it misled its students by inflating its job-placement rates.

Trump could have done the same, or answered the charges in a dignified manner through his attorney. Instead, he chose to try the case in the press. That may keep him in the spotlight, but it does not change the facts.

These facts are clear: Trump University was an unlicensed enterprise promising students that they would become wealthy by learning Trump’s real estate tips and strategies, taught by his handpicked instructors. It guaranteed “apprenticeship” support, access to private sources of funding, even a chance to meet Trump himself. Instructors assured enrollees that they would quickly recoup their investments; some promised students they would earn tens of thousands of dollars in just 30 days.

Instead, students got a high-pressure pitch for ever more expensive classes, starting at $1,495 for a three-day seminar and progressing to mentorship programs that cost as much as $35,000. Instructors even urged students to call their credit card companies to increase their credit lines, the better to pay for more expensive programs and courses.

The exclusive Trump sales tips turned out to be generic strategies; he had no hand in writing the curriculum. The private funding sources turned out to be a list of lenders photocopied from a magazine. Not only were the instructors not hand-picked by Trump, but some falsified their credentials and two had even filed for bankruptcy protection. The chance to meet Trump turned out to be an opportunity to have a picture taken with a life-sized photo of him.

Trump University had neither a license nor a charter from New York State certifying it as an institution of higher education. In total, Trump University students were defrauded of $40 million, with about $5 million landing in Trump’s pocket. My office received complaints from many former students. One lost her life savings; another had to move out of her home after investing in Trump’s mentorship programs. Trump claims that enrollees have given his program a 98% approval rating, but we have statements showing that students were hounded into giving favorable reviews.

Some 5,000 hardworking people from all over the country fell for Donald Trump’s sales pitch and ended up getting taken. They were victims of a high-pressure bait and switch. That’s consumer fraud. As the state’s chief law enforcement officer, it’s my job to see that perpetrators of fraud are brought to justice.

Even if the perpetrator’s name is Donald Trump.

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