Never licensed as a school, Trump University was in reality a series of real estate workshops in hotel ballrooms around the country, not unlike many other for-profit self-help or motivational seminars. Though short-lived, it remains a thorn in Trump's side nearly five years after its operations ceased: In three pending lawsuits, including one in which the New York attorney general is seeking $40 million in restitution, former students allege that the enterprise bilked them out of their money with misleading advertisements. Instead of a fast route to easy money, these Trump University students say they found generic seminars led by salesmen who pressured them to invest more cash in additional courses. The students say they didn't learn Trump's secrets and never received the one-on-one guidance they expected.
Long before Donald Trump became a leading Republican presidential candidate, he was something far broader: a commercial brand to be exploited at every possible opportunity.
On the surface, Trump was a New York developer. But simultaneously, he was also a best-selling author. And a motivational speaker. And a reality-show host. And a board game.
And as the Washington Post reported yesterday, he was also the namesake of a "university," where students sometimes "max[ed] out their credit cards to pay tens of thousands of dollars for insider knowledge they believed could make them wealthy."
"He's earned more in a day than most people do in a lifetime," a 2009 ad, featuring Trump's photograph, said. "He's living a life many men and women only dream about. And now he's ready to share -- with Americans like you -- the Trump process for investing in today's once-in-a-lifetime real estate market."
A Trump attorney insisted that aspiring investors learned valuable lessons with which most students were satisfied.
But the Post's article also highlighted a Texas man, Louie Liu, who said he paid "$1,495 for a three-day seminar, then felt lured into paying $24,995 for more classes, an online training program and a three-day in-person mentorship."
He now believes that the Trump University program was a "scam."
Another man, Bob Guillo, paid nearly $35,000 for the "Trump Gold Elite package," which amounted to very little. "I really felt stupid that I was scammed by Trump," Guillo said.
If recent history is any guide, revelations like these won't dissuade the GOP candidate's ardent followers, who've chosen to overlook more than a few recent controversies.
Indeed, the Post's article suggested that even Louie Liu, who considers himself a victim of a Trump "scam," still likes Trump and might even vote for him. Trump "says what he means, not like politicians, not like Obama," Liu said.
Remember, this same guy felt lured into paying Trump University tens of thousands of dollars, and when he asked for a refund, Trump U. refused.
There's always the possibility, though, that some political observers might draw parallels between Trump U. and Trump's presidential campaign. A group of people, impressed with Trump's wealth, rallied behind one of his high-profile endeavors, at least in part because he's "not like politicians."
Some of these same people later discovered that the endeavor wasn't quite what they hoped it would be.
"He's the biggest phony in the world, yet people as gullible as me think he's the greatest guy in the world," Guillo told the Washington Post. "When I watch him on TV, I'm really impressed. I think, 'How can people believe in him?' And I think, 'Well, Bob, you believed in him in 2009. You gave him $35,000.'"