The complaints fill hundreds of pages, a chorus of passionate and often irate voices decrying the alleged loss of thousands of dollars to seminars and online courses that promised to provide them with a “billionaire’s road map to success” and other tools of wealth accumulation.
“I paid 12000.00 for a real estate course in December 2008,” wrote an Anaheim, California, resident in a complaint that was filed with Florida’s Attorney General in January 2010 and later forwarded to Texas’s attorney general. “I received nothing. I have called repeatedly to get a refund from this company. Every time I call I can only speak with the front person that answers the phone. I’m told they will send my paperwork to a higher up that I am not allowed to speak to. They say I will get a call back. I never do. I have been trying to get this resolved for over a year. I think this is a big scam. Can you help me?”
This former student’s lament is one of more than a hundred complaints against Trump University and its affiliated company, the Trump Institute, obtained by The Nation through a public-records request to the office of the Texas attorney general. Trump U (later known as the Trump Entrepreneur Initiative) is the now-defunct get-rich-quick venture launched by Donald Trump in 2005. The Trump Institute, which reportedly paid the billionaire businessman franchise fees to host seminars under his name (and toward which many of the complaints are directed), promoted opportunities like “wealth building weekends” with a “Trump-certified instructor” and a 320-page workbook “filled with valuable strategies for building wealth through real estate and business.”
In the summer of 2010, Greg Abbott, Texas’s then–attorney general (now governor), was taking a close look at Trump’s schools. And he wasn’t the only one: It turns out that law-enforcement authorities across the country were examining—and corresponding about—Trump’s educational endeavors, which have been since accused in lawsuits of posing as legitimate university courses to swindle desperate students out of money on false promises to unlock Trump’s secret to financial success.
The Texas attorney general never took enforcement action against Trump’s schools, but, by 2011, Abbott’s office had said that Trump University had agreed to no longer operate in the state. By the time Abbott had concluded his investigation, he had amassed some 400 pages of documents relating to complaints against Trump University and the Trump Institute. Among them were grievances that Florida’s attorney general had sent him as well as numerous filings from Better Business Bureaus in Florida and New York, where Trump University and its affiliates had set up offices.