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Damning new 'Trump University' documents could drag Trump down
[WASHINGTON] Newly unsealed court documents in a case against White House hopeful Donald Trump's "university" reveal alligations that the now-defunct business preyed on the uneducated and misled consumers with aggressive marketing that amounted to fraud.
The most damning revelations came from former staffers of the profit-driven operation that launched in 2004 and closed in 2010, triggering lawsuits that may well see the presumptive Republican presidential nominee dragged into court.
"While Trump University claimed it wanted to help consumers make money in real estate, in fact Trump University was only interested in selling every person the most expensive seminars they possibly could," former Trump University staffer Ronald Schnackenberg wrote in a statement unsealed Tuesday.
The business offered several courses in entrepreneurship, under the famous Trump brand.
But Mr Schnackenberg described how he quit his sales manager job in 2007 after coming to believe that "Trump University was engaging in misleading, fraudulent, and dishonest conduct," echoing arguments laid out by plaintiffs who are former "students" who claim they were scammed.
Another former employee, Jason Nicholas, acknowledged that the seminars were taught by "unqualified people posing as Donald Trump's 'right-hand men.'"
Mr Nicholas said those staff "were teaching methods that were unethical, and they had had little to no experience flipping properties or doing real estate deals." "It was a facade, a total lie," he testified.
The court also unsealed internal company manuals, called "playbooks," detailing sales techniques for steering prospective students to the most expensive courses and programmes, which ran as high as US$35,000 for supposedly revealing Mr Trump's wealth-generating secrets.
"Let them know that you've found an answer to their problems and a way for them to change their lifestyle," read the playbook, which even suggested the best chair arrangements and specified the ideal room temperature for luring customers.
"Retention starts here," the manual added. "Be sure to congratulate the buyer, shake hands, and make eye contact," it explained, telling the marketers that they are "not doing any favour by letting someone use lack of money as an excuse" not to sign up.
A Trump spokeswoman told AFP that the newly released documents have "no bearing on the merits of Trump University's case." They instead demonstrate "the high level of satisfaction from students" who participated.
The class action suit and fresh release of documents come as the 2016 presidential race shapes up to be a contest between Mr Trump and his likely Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton.
The two have already pivoted toward their election matchup, and the former secretary of state wasted no time on Wednesday laying into Mr Trump over the revelations.
"His own employees testified that Trump U - you can't make this up - that Trump U was a fraudulent scheme where Donald Trump enriched himself at the expense of hard-working people," Mrs Clinton told supporters at a rally in Newark, New Jersey.
She noted that the marketers encouraged potential customers to "max out their credit cards, empty their retirement savings (and) destroy their financial futures." "This is just more evidence that Donald Trump himself is a fraud," Mrs Clinton said. "He is trying to scam America."
Mr Trump has steadfastly defended the operation, claiming that thousands of students gave his courses and instructors "rave reviews." And he has repeatedly attacked the judge handling the case, Gonzalo Curiel.
"Very unfair. An Obama pick. Totally biased - hates Trump," the real estate tycoon tweeted on Tuesday, days after he described the judge as "Mexican." Judge Curiel was born in the US state of Indiana.