The Final Trump University Settlement Will Give Millions Back To Its Former Students
On Monday, former students of Trump University finally saw justice. A federal judge in San Diego signed off on a $25 million settlement for former Trump University students, KPBS reported. Thousands of academics claimed they were tricked out of millions of dollars via the now defunct real estate program.
The settlement was first approved last year by U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who Trump has criticized because of his Mexican heritage, claiming it makes him biased against the president because of his plan to build a wall on the border. However, after the judge's approval of the settlement, one of the former students, Sherri Simpson, actually challenged the agreement. She wanted to recoup more money by filing her own lawsuit, and she wanted President Trump to apologize.
Once a federal appeals court rejected Simpson's challenge in February, ruling she didn't have a right to opt out of the appeal in a class-action lawsuit, Curiel signed the initial agreement. This means roughly 8,000 former students could receive anywhere from 80 to 90 percent of what they paid for the classes they took via Trump University. The total amount comes to about $21 million in two lawsuits filed in California and $4 million in a case filed in New York by Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.
In ads for Trump University played on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, Trump can be seen saying, "At Trump University, we teach success. That's what it's all about. Success. It's going to happen to you." He claimed the teachers working with the program were all hand-picked by him and that if students couldn't learn from them, "You're just not going to make it in terms of the world of success."
While appearing on CNN, Schneiderman said that when they started investigating the "university," they realized pretty immediately "it was a classic bait-and-switch scheme," he said. "It was a scam, starting with the fact that it was not a university."
Trump even later admitted in a deposition that he didn't hand-pick the instructors, according to The New York Times. In fact, he was unable to recall any of the key instructors, The Washington Post reported. Unsealed records related to the Trump University case revealed that many of the instructors working with the program "were unqualified people posing as Donald Trump’s 'right-hand men.'" Many of them had "no experience buying or selling real estate."
While Trump's lead attorney, Daniel Petrocelli, said the president's involvement with Trump University was "fairly nil," according to KPBS, The Washington Post reported that he was instrumental in crafting the advertising surrounding the fraudulent university. "Mr. Trump understandably is protective of his brand and very protective of his image and how he’s portrayed,” Trump University’s then-president Michael Sexton said in a 2012 deposition. “And he wanted to see how his brand and image were portrayed in Trump University marketing materials. And he had very good and substantive input as well.”
Trump University instructors received a "playbook" that advised them to be "very aggressive" when upselling students on classes, which ranged anywhere from $29 to $35,000, according to 400 pages of the handbook that were made public. Teachers were also told to use different tactics of manipulation in order to make the sale, for instance "Don't ask people what they THINK about something you've said. Instead, always ask them how they FEEL about it. People buy emotionally and justify it logically."
In their lawsuits, the former Trump University students alleged Trump committed fraud by promising he "hand-picked" the instructors to guarantee them success in real estate, and then demanding up to $35,000. They also claimed that calling the program a "university" was misleading, considering it wasn't an accredited school.
Schneiderman was pleased on Monday to see the finalization of the settlement against what he referred to as a "bait-and-switch" scam. "Judge Curiel's order finalizing the $25 million Trump University settlement means that victims of Donald Trump's fraudulent university will finally receive the relief they deserve," he said in a statement. "We are particularly pleased that the final settlement we negotiated with class counsel ensures that members of the class will receive an even higher settlement than anyone originally anticipated."