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The Short Con and the Long Con



The Donald Loves ’em both:

In blunt testimony revealed on Tuesday, former managers of Trump University, the for-profit school started by Donald J. Trump, portray it as an unscrupulous business that relied on high-pressure sales tactics, employed unqualified instructors, made deceptive claims and exploited vulnerable students willing to pay tens of thousands for Mr. Trump’s insights.

One sales manager for Trump University, Ronald Schnackenberg, recounted how he was reprimanded for not pushing a financially struggling couple hard enough to sign up for a $35,000 real estate class, despite his conclusion that it would endanger their economic future. He watched with disgust, he said, as a fellow Trump University salesman persuaded the couple to purchase the class anyway.

“I believe that Trump University was a fraudulent scheme,” Mr. Schnackenberg wrote in his testimony, “and that it preyed upon the elderly and uneducated to separate them from their money.”

His ability to obtain the Republican nomination becomes more logical the more you think about it. As is his preemptive response:

“We’re in front of a very hostile judge,” Mr. Trump said. “The judge was appointed by Barack Obama, federal judge. Frankly, he should recuse himself because he’s given us ruling after ruling after ruling, negative, negative, negative.”

Mr. Trump also told the audience, which had previously chanted the Republican standard-bearer’s signature “build that wall” mantra in reference to Mr. Trump’s proposed wall along the Mexican border, that Judge Curiel is “Mexican.”

“What happens is the judge, who happens to be, we believe, Mexican, which is great. I think that’s fine,” Mr. Trump said.

Judge Curiel was born in Indiana.

When you don’t have the facts, pound the racist demagoguery.

…more here.

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  • NewishLawyer

    Hopefully these revelations will hurt Donald but he seems able to pull con after con.

    The random chaos of the universe seems to make Donald out of Teflon.

    • ploeg

      The some of the people who Donald can fool all of the time were the ones who gave Donald the nomination. Donald doesn’t need to fool all of the people all of the time, but fooling enough to get him elected after five solid months of these sorts of stories will be a trick.

    • Steve LaBonne

      Always remember, IOKIYAR.

      • Halloween Jack

        Or IOKIYARK (“rich kid”).

  • Owlbear1

    Now if that doesn’t get Kristol off his, “Third Party” shenanigans I don’t know what will.

    • The Temporary Name

      The opposite!

  • catbirdman

    Don’t forget his suggestion that “the Mexicans are going to end up loving Donald Trump when I give all these jobs, OK?” Seriously, WTF?

  • Warren Terra

    Mr. Trump also told the audience .. that Judge Curiel is “Mexican.” …. Judge Curiel was born in Indiana.

    Also, Judge Curiel was a federal prosecutor who went after a Mexican cartel and was apparently targeted by them for assassination

    • The Lorax

      Wow. Just wow.

  • Mike G

    preyed upon the elderly and uneducated

    And his presidential campaign is SOOOO different.

    This will probably only burnish Dump’s credentials among the rubes, the mentality seems to admire con-men and have contempt for the conned. But of course it could NEVER happen to them.

    • He lied to the rubes and took their money — proof of his alpha-male status! We are alpha males too, that is why we trust him and give him our money!

    • Derelict

      Sadly, I think you’re right about Trump losing the suit and winning yet more acolytes. For those already on his “team,” this is just further proof of Trump’s outsider status. “See! He doesn’t play by their rules, so he’ll make real changes in Washington!!!” Never mind that “their rules” consist of actual laws that make what Trump did a crime.

      And for those who are waivering, well, it’s clear the judge is Mexican, right? Trump said it, and just look at the guy’s name! And all those Mexicans fear Trump, as they should. And if I hear “press 1 for English” just one more goddamn time, well, lemme tell you, I’m voting for whoever removes this Hispanic plague!!!!

      • jim, some guy in iowa

        well, it gets him more of the *same* acolytes- characters David Mamet wrote out of “Glengarry Glen Ross”- but would it really help him all that much with the rest of the electorate?

      • N__B

        For those already on his “team,” this is just further proof of Trump’s outsider status.

        It’s the same crowd that believed that “Joe” the “Plumber” was prevented from starting his own business by onerous government regulation. I think we saw in 2008 the limits of appealing to that particular group of morons.

        • I think we saw in 2008 the limits of appealing to that particular group of morons.

          Not too particular.

      • NonyNony

        And for those who are waivering, well, it’s clear the judge is Mexican, right? Trump said it, and just look at the guy’s name! And all those Mexicans fear Trump, as they should.

        Anyone thinking this way was already voting for Trump. If you’re racist enough to think that “the judge is Messican” is some kind of defense, you’re already in Trump’s core demographic.

  • Nobdy

    Say what you will about vile rapacious nearly cartoonish villainy, but at least it’s an ethos.

  • AMK

    He’s a terrible human being, but Trump University is stretching into Darwin awards territory. I could understand if it was even a few thousand dollars (I’ve bought my share of ridiculous gimmicks). But if you’re a bona-fide adult who decides the best way to spend $35,000 is to pay for “classes” at “Trump University,” then there’s really nothing anyone can do to help you. Maybe the CFPB can start a radio collar program for these people, like what FWS does to stop endangered animals from wandering into traffic.

    • Nobdy

      High pressure sales can accomplish a lot. So can desperation and lack of sophistication. Not to mention the idea of “Donald Trump wouldn’t put his name on it if it wasn’t good” and “Donald Trump is so rich he doesn’t need MY money, this must be the real deal.”

      Being scammed does not indicate a moral or even necessarily intellectual failing. It means you got taken. A lot of these people were old and thought they were essentially buying a business and the secrets to success from a huge success in the field, like a franchise restaurant.

      It’s not that crazy if you think about it in the right (which is to say the wrong) way.

    • Judas Peckerwood

      He’s a terrible human being, but Trump University is stretching into Darwin awards territory.

      To stretch into Darwin Awards territory the suckers would have had to submit to being sterilized or otherwise take themselves out of the gene pool, in addition to coughing up all that cash.

      Hmmmmm… Actually, I think I have an idea for an online university!

    • witlesschum

      Well, no. Donald Trump is has been portraying himself as a brilliant, rich businessman in the media since the 1980s and that kind of press is effective. That media spends large portions of its time fluffing the rich and there are many other institutions in society, religious, cultural and governmental, that spend their time putting a gloss on plutocracy. The legal and governmental systems create the impression that a scam as brazen as Trump University as it actually is constituted wouldn’t be allowed to exist.

      That, plus the art and science of high pressure sales, advertising and market research amount to a pretty major portion of society arrayed against an individual arriving at the correct conclusion that anything involving Donald Trump is probably a shitshow.

      It’s easy for me to see Donald Trump for what he is, because I hate him with incredible vehemence. I’m a socialist asshole who disfavors billionaires by ideology, despise blowhards by inclination and develops hates for his enemies by personality. (And then I found out about his cartoonishly evil politics!) So, obviously I’m going to despise Trump and think his university is a scam. But most people don’t have my advantages.

    • Mac the Knife

      I find myself thinking something similar about the people who are ready to vote for him for President, which horrifies me.

      These people are making the work of trying to be a better person very very difficult.

      • If it was easy, everyone would do it.

      • DrS

        I think I saw quotes from people who sued Trump due to injury and were planning on voting for him.

        I wouldn’t be surprised if there are people who got taken by this scam who are planning on voting for him too.

    • sparks

      If you think you’re too smart to get took, you’re a rube. With the right pitch anyone can be suckered.

      • Rob in CT

        I suppose, but some folks really are more gullible than others, and thus more susceptible to scams.

        I understand pushing back against the idea that anyone who fell for Trump U is an unredeemable moron. But…

        • PhoenixRising

          Happily, the law on this type of con doesn’t require the court to draw a conclusion either way on that. Trump U needs only to have deceived about material aspects of the ‘educational offering’ to have defrauded these marks…I mean upstanding citizens who wanted something for nothing.

          It’s not true that these people were gullible. It’s predictable that they were greedy, in the form of believing that they were getting the secrets to how to become really rich for a small sum most of them were able to afford to lose.

          The aspects of discovery that have exposed the sales tactics and financing for dupes are a bonus for the fraud case. They’re the frosting, though–the cake is that the ‘students’ were told that a specific thing (Donald Trump’s time) was going to be offered ‘later’, and he never showed up. Therefore they were sold something that wasn’t delivered.

          • addicted44

            Or, you know, these people were elderly and/or uneducated and trying to do something to better their lives by investing large sums of money and significant amounts of times.

      • vic rattlehead

        Right. I’m no genius but I think I’m relatively smart and I try to stay humble about this. It’s important to note that high pressure sales tactics aren’t only used by grifters running a blatant scam like Trump U. They’re actually pretty common among salespeople of all stripes.

        I remember going into a Nordstrom with my wife during a sale. I hadn’t been in the suit section more than 30 seconds before a salesperson was pulling Blazers off the rack saying shit like “oh this would look great on you.” Before I knew it I was in front of the mirror wearing a Hugo Boss suit I couldn’t afford, with a tailor measuring me for alterations. If it weren’t for my wife I probably would’ve bought the thing. You can say I’m weak, but high pressure sales tactics work, *even if* you know how to identify them.

        It’s also why I never allow myself to be voluntarily cornered by a salesperson. A disability insurance salesmen came into the office a year ago. I refused to meet with him or go to the info session. I’m not going to voluntarily swim with a shark, and insurance salesmen are among the worst out there.

        • DrS

          I’ve had a couple of jobs that meant I was supporting insurance sales people. I won’t do that again, for a lot of similar reasons.

    • Ahenobarbus

      There are people who cheerfully spend $35,000 *per year* to attend second rate law schools.

    • rewenzo

      One way to contextualize this would be to ask whether similar numbers of people would be fooled today by a similar course of study being offered by one of our Tech Lord billionaires, e.g. Jeff Bezos, Peter Thiel, Elizabeth Holmes, etc. And the answer is, of course, yes. And it’s not just the uneducated, either. Even soi-disant savvy investors have been fooled by these guys. People thought Theranos was worth $9 billion based on technology they apparently just don’t have. Regulators were fooled too for a while.

      • addicted44

        Well put.

        The reason Trump U appears to be an obvious scam is because Trump has the opposite connotation for most on this board than he does for those who were cheated.

      • Theranos is a good example.
        The whole feckin tech stockmarket is premised on the promise of getting rich by having access to inside knowledge that all those other suckers don’t have.

  • Alex.S

    The most striking documents were written testimony from former employees of Trump University who said they had become disenchanted with the university’s tactics and culture. Corrine Sommer, an event manager, recounted how colleagues encouraged students to open up as many credit cards as possible to pay for classes that many of them could not afford.

    From the playbook — http://static.politico.com/25/88/783a0dca43a0a898f3973da0086f/trump-university-playbook.pdf

    Identifying Buyers:
    Once you have the completed profiles, the team should go through each profile and determine
    who has the most and least liquid assets and rank them using the following scale:
    E1 – Over $35,000 of liquid assets
    E2 – Between $20,000 and $30,000 of liquid assets
    E3 – Under $10,000 of liquid assets
    E4 – Less than $2,000 of liquid assets
    401ks and IRAs should not be considered when using the ranking system since these are not
    liquid, available cash.

    It’s exactly what I would expect a scumbag con artist to be doing. But somehow, with documentation.

    • Lurker

      This is the modern world. In the old dys, these would have been secrets of the trade, passed from master to disciple in an informal manner. Trumpmwas running an industrialised scam operation, where there is no time for such personalised approach. You do the same as in any imdustry: write a manual and a detailed instruction for scamming.

      This approach has sevsral strengths. It allows for less talented persons to work almost competently, which means that instead of individual talents, you can work with a predictable work force, where individual scammers are replacable. Second, it requires much less personal attention to the management of the long con.

    • LeeEsq

      Its like asking prosecutors to jump down with joy but a lot of these scams do seem to like having paper work for some reason. I guess they might not have good memories and need to know what they are going after.

    • N__B

      I’m unfamiliar with the sales mentality. What about someone with $32K or $15K in assets?

      • PhoenixRising

        Adjust the price, at $31-34K.

        Send them to get the other $15K from parents, friends, or banks that issue credit cards…because if you have that kind of cash on hand, someone in one of those categories will lend it to you.

  • keta

    Looked at in a certain light, Trump just might be the most American presidential candidate ever to run for that office.


  • Derelict

    “Frankly, he should recuse himself because he’s given us ruling after ruling after ruling, negative, negative, negative.”

    There, in a single sentence: Trump’s view of how life should work.

    • Yup. Because negative after negative after negative could only mean that the judge is biased. Against crooks, that is.

  • malraux

    I’m personally baffled by the relatively small sums of money involved. Not that $35,000 is a small amount of money, but for the person trump claims to be, $35k is chump change. If he were worth several billion, it doesn’t seem worth his while to generate a few million a year in revenue; even though I suspect the expenses for this endeavor were mostly advertising and renting a fancy hotel room.

    Now if he weren’t nearly as rich as he claims, then a fast cash grab like this makes more sense.

    • yet_another_lawyer

      It’s not about the money. It’s about sending a message.

    • so-in-so

      As Lurker noted above, it’s scamming on a semi-industrial scale. To scam a rich guy out of several hundred thousand takes a lot of time and skill, scamming several hundred people out of few thousand each with hired workers takes less of his own time and nets a better long-term return.

      Plus the guy who loses several $100k may be more inclined to fight back, and have the means.

      • malraux

        Oh I get that its scamming on a semi-large scale, and that you have to scam the really rich in other ways (trump steaks, trump vodka seem more in the Veblen good sort of scam).

        Its just that if running his golf courses, real estate development, etc. sorts of business/making money were really generating the sorts of income he claimed then even this level of scam just wouldn’t be worth the hassle. It devalues his brand as much as improves it.

        The point being, I see this as yet more evidence that he isn’t nearly as wealthy as he claims.

        • Ahenobarbus

          I still don’t get this point. The Walmart heirs are rich as god and they still sell $4 packages of tube socks. They don’t say, well, it isn’t really worth the hassle.

          • malraux

            Well, the trump heirs are at the crazy rich point, such that they’ve run out of better growth opportunities. Moreover, what you see the waltons doing is growing walmart, not going into the store to work as an associate, or giving motivational speeches, or other forms of hucksterism.

          • NonyNony

            There’s a big difference between the Walton family continuing to run Wal*Mart as it has always been run and the Walton family starting up a series of seminars on how to get rich in retail. The former is just continuing the family business, the latter is the mark of someone who is failing at the family business and is looking for rubes to pay them to make up the difference.

            The very idea that Trump is selling courses in “how to be successful at real estate investment” is pretty much an indication to me that he’s not doing as well as he claims. After all, if his methods were that good then he’d be able to make more money by just doing more investment and not by setting up a seminar to teach other people how to be his competitors.

            • He should have gone meta and sold seminars on how to scam people with seminars.

        • so-in-so

          First, I don’t think rich people are ever “rich enough” that they stop looking to increase it.

          Second, I suspect Trump’s burn-rate is higher than his income, so he constantly looks for new sources. He’s also renting his name to lots of projects without other involvement by him, some of which fail (with his name in big letters on the failure) which also hurts his brand, you’d figure.

          • NonyNony

            which also hurts his brand, you’d figure.

            For a normal person I’d figure that failing would hurt the brand, yes.

            But part of Trump’s brand appears to be bankruptcy and failure, so I guess not in his case?

            • Well, it seems that after these third-party Trump ventures fail, he continues to tout them as going concerns and successes, probably no one involved is any longer around to dispute. Trump Wine, Trump Steaks, Trump Magazine, hell he even claims the flameout of Trump Air made him money.

    • delazeur

      Now if he weren’t nearly as rich as he claims, then a fast cash grab like this makes more sense.

      I’m skeptical of his claims of wealth as well, but it seems like most of his income is based on having his staff come up with ways to make money off his name. When you add the “university” to the steaks, the ties, the cologne, the branded hotels, and everything else you get a decent revenue stream, and The Donald doesn’t have to actually do anything except get his picture taken for a few ads.

  • I’m willing to bet that a lot of those marks will be voting for Trump in November.

  • smott999

    The judge allowing their request to move the trial from summer til after the elections was yuuuuge.
    Wouldn’t call that a negative ruling, Donald.

    • Rob in CT

      Yeah. That was unfortunate.

  • kped

    One minor thing that’s been annoying me about people’s reaction to the comment “he’s Mexican” is it just goes to snark “actually, he was born in Indiana”. That turns it into “durr, Trump is too dumb to know where he’s from”, which I think misses the point – it’s a racist fucking comment. And Mr Curial may very well be Mexican, the same way Scalia was Italian, or I’m Portuguese. People are focusing on his birthplace as if that erases his heritage, which is silly and unnecessary, turning this into a “gotcha”, when it doesn’t need to be. It’s a disgusting statement whether true or false.

    I mean…his parents are from Mexico. I’m sure he’d consider himself Mexican-American, and there is nothing wrong with that at all! It doesn’t excuse Trumps racist, idiotic comment to acknowledge this.

    • witlesschum

      When I say “actually he’s from Indiana” I mean “he’s more American than a racist dumpster slurry of a man like you” but I see what you mean.

      • the shadow

        I dunno, racist dumpster slurry men are not statistically unAmerican.

        • The National Fraternal Brotherhood of Racist Dumpster Slurry Men demands an apology! They are as American as Apple Pie. (Also many of them plan to vote Trump in the fall)

  • efgoldman

    Unfortunately, for now, this is just a civil case. If Trump and the opossum on his head loses, his only penalty (which he’ll likely never pay) is money.
    Do any of the attorneys out there, looking at the information that’s available, think there’s a possibility of a criminal indictment?

    • witlesschum

      The number of DeVosi sitting in luxury in Ada or wherever rather than federal prison leads me to believe that we’re in, as usual, “the scandal is what’s legal” territory.

    • ochospantalones

      The New York AG has been pursuing a civil case against Trump over the Trump University mess since 2013. I assume if he had found anything that would justify a criminal case he would have brought it by now.

  • Cheap Wino

    Well, that seals it. I’m going to Beck University instead.

    • calling all toasters


  • ChrisTS

    So, I have an admission. My spouse and I recently got scammed out of about 3K$ – and it would have been 10K$ if they hadn’t suddenly folded.
    We are both holders of Ph.D.s in philosophy. He has worked for years in finance and is a highly cynical person. We researched the ‘company’ and the deal. Somebody put a ton of effort into the scam, and we have no idea what kind of money they might have made to make it worthwhile.
    So, the idea that only dumb or careless people can get scammed is just false, based on our experience.

    • PhoenixRising

      That’s fascinating–are you willing to say more? As in, investment opportunity? MLM? Solar panels for your home?

      There are a lot of kinds of scams out there and I’m a bit of a hobbyist. Backstory: My in-laws were high in the pyramid of a well-known ‘network marketing firm’ when I first met my wife. They made an apparently good-faith effort to bring her/us into the pyramid at a level that would have set us up financially until the pyramid collapsed, but I was skeptical and refused to hand over my at-the-time good credit.

      This led to an estrangement of nearly a decade–until the pyramid collapsed due to regulatory frameworks finally assessing the product claims and finding them to be bunk. Then we became the ‘smart ones’.

      • ChrisTS

        We own a property in Mexico that we haven’t used in a couple of years. We’ve had any number of realtors ask us about selling it, and this was one of them.

        They had the name and real estate license of a real guy and two websites that looked very nice. They also had faux ‘office’ phone operators and the whole “this may be recorded” stuff.

        We sent them about 3K that went into a phony escrow account. They asked us for more and we dumbly wired them another 7K. But that money came back because, we assume, they got scared. Phones disconnected, websites down, just gone. We managed to get hold of the real estate guy (the real one), and he was flabbergasted as well as alarmed.

        So, we’re out the 3K and still saddled with the property.

        • Halloween Jack

          Yeah, I’m not much for victim-blaming; a recent discussion of MLMs on another site reminded me of when my sister and brother in law got into Amway. They didn’t lose a lot of money or time on it, but it got their hopes up for a while, and these aren’t dumb people–they’ve both been employed in technically-demanding fields for a while. Your story reminds me that most people (including myself) could be fooled by fake/stolen credentials if they don’t know exactly what questions to ask, or who to ask about them.

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