WASHINGTON — The manual for the staff at Trump University events was precise: The room temperature should be 68 degrees. Seats should be arranged in a theater-style curve. And government prosecutors had no right to see any documents without a warrant.
ATLANTIC CITY — In 1984, when Donald Trump opened Trump Plaza, his first Atlantic City casin…
Instructing employees how to stall law-enforcement investigations might seem like an unusual part of running a real estate seminar company. But at Trump University — which drew investigations by Democratic and Republican attorneys general alike — it was par for the course.
Trump University guides unsealed this week by a federal judge in southern California undercut the candidate’s portrayal of his one-time real estate seminar course as an uncontroversial operation. The manuals reflect boiler-room sales tactics — the proceeds of which went largely to Trump.
One guide encouraged staff to learn prospective enrollees’ motivations in order to better sell them on products: “Are they a single parent of three children that may need money for food?” the guide asked. When people balked at paying for expensive courses, the suggested response for Trump University staff was harsh.
“I find it very difficult to believe you’ll invest in anything else if you don’t believe enough to invest in yourself and your education,” is the guide’s recommended response.
Those who bought into Trump University ended up paying as much as $34,995 for what was purported to be private mentoring with supposed real estate experts — some of whom Trump himself later acknowledged were unqualified.
“It’s fraud ... straight-up fraud,” said New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman during an MSNBC interview Thursday. Schneiderman is suing Trump over Trump University in a similar case. “He was clearly in charge of pitching this scam university to people.”
With past Trump-affiliated business failures and controversies, Trump has often distanced himself by saying his only financial involvement was a branding agreement. In Trump University, Trump’s ownership is not in dispute — Trump wanted the business for himself.
When future Trump University President Michael Sexton pitched Trump on the deal, he wanted to pay Trump a flat fee in a licensing deal. Trump rejected that, Sexton said in a deposition.
Trump “felt this was a very good business, and he wanted to put his own money into it,” said Sexton, who ended up receiving $250,000 a year from Trump to run a business in which Trump held more than a 90 percent stake. The design of the Trump University operating agreement “was entirely in the hands of the Trump legal team,” he said.
Other court records and depositions showed that Trump and senior members of the Trump Organization were responsible for reviewing and signing all checks — and Trump withdrew at least $2 million from the business.
Trump reviewed the advertising for Trump University’s courses, Sexton said. And he did not believe Trump ever looked at what the three-day seminars included.
“Mr. Trump is not going to go through a 300-page, you know, binder of content,” Sexton said.
The impression of Trump’s involvement given in sales pitches was quite different, according to a script for Trump University telemarketers.
“You know who my boss is, right?” the script reads. “Mr. Trump is on a mission to create the next wave of independently wealthy entrepreneurs in America. Is that YOU?”
Trump has defended Trump University by citing surveys in which 98 percent of students reported being pleased with the program. But those surveys took place before students had experienced the full program and were not anonymous, plaintiffs’ lawyers have said. A higher percentage demanded refunds later.
As scores of students complained that Trump University was a ripoff, the Better Business Bureau in 2010 gave the school a D-minus, its second-lowest grade. State regulators took notice.
Besides the probe that led to the New York suit, the office of then-Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, a Republican, opened a civil investigation of “possibly deceptive trade practices.” That probe was dropped in 2010 when Trump University agreed to end its Texas operations. Trump subsequently donated $35,000 to Abbott’s successful gubernatorial campaign, records show.
Now Texas’ governor, Abbott declined to comment via a spokesman.
Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi briefly considered joining with Schneiderman in a multi-state suit against Trump University. Three days after Bondi’s spokeswoman was quoted in local media reports as saying the office was reviewing the New York lawsuit, the Donald J. Trump Foundation made a $25,000 contribution to a political fundraising committee supporting Bondi’s re-election campaign. Bondi, a Republican, soon dropped her investigation, citing insufficient grounds to proceed.