The attorney general of the state of New York is suing Donald Trump for $40 million, saying he ran a bogus "university" that promised to make students rich, but simply offered an array of expensive seminars.
The kicker: students never even got a chance to meet Trump, but only have their picture taken next to a life-sized cutout of the Donald.
Attorney General Eric Schneiderman says many of the 5,000 students who paid up to $35,000 thought they would at least meet Trump but instead all they got was their picture taken in front of a life-size picture of "The Apprentice" TV star.
"Trump University engaged in deception at every stage of consumers' advancement through costly programs and caused real financial harm," Schneiderman said. "Trump University, with Donald Trump's knowledge and participation, relied on Trump's name recognition and celebrity status to take advantage of consumers who believed in the Trump brand."
A spokeswoman for Trump did not immediately return a request for comment Saturday.
The lawsuit says many of the wannabe moguls were unable to land even one real estate deal and were left far worse off than before the lessons, facing thousands of dollars in debt for the seminar program once billed as a top quality university with Trump's "hand-picked" instructors.
Schneiderman is suing the program, Trump as the university chairman, and the former president of the university in a case to be handled in state Supreme Court in Manhattan. He accuses them of engaging in persistent fraud, illegal and deceptive conduct and violating federal consumer protection law. The $40 million he seeks is mostly to pay restitution to consumers.
A Trump attorney had said Schneiderman sought campaign contributions while investigating the case, telling The New York Times it was "tantamount to extortion," a claim denied by Schneiderman.
"Unlike some who are willing to turn a blind eye to fraud in exchange for campaign contributions, the attorney general is willing to follow an investigation wherever it may lead, even if that means investigating people with whom he's had a relationship, Schneiderman spokesman Andrew Friedman told The Associated Press.
State Education Department officials had told Trump to change the name of his enterprise years ago, saying it lacked a license and didn't meet the legal definitions of a university. In 2011 it was renamed the Trump Entrepreneur Institute, but it has been dogged since by complaints from consumers and a few isolated civil lawsuits claiming it didn't fulfill its advertised claims.
I'm not sure about this, if only because Trump was simply promoting himself as he always does, cashing in on his fame.. Should Trump be responsible for other people's stupidity? Certainly consumers should be protected, but anyone who believed that attending these seminars would guarantee wealth, or even a foot in the door in the most competitive real estate market in the nation was kidding themselves.
The seminars may have been overpriced, but Trump was only charging what the market would bear. No one held a gun to the students' head and forced them to pay.
Trump may be a putz - even a charlatan. But it's hard to call him a fraudster when all he did was overcharge for seminars and allow students to fantasize about getting rich by following a formula. TV pitchmen get away with this kind of stuff all the time. Why Trump should be singled out says more about politics than it does protecting consumers.