Class, raise your hand if you take Donald Trump seriously. No one? Well that shows you've learned something at the Trump University which, according to a lawsuit by the New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has defrauded at least 5,000 students who paid as much as $35,000 for courses and mentoring led by Trump's "hand-picked instructors," with the suggestion that they would meet The Donald himself.
And they didn't even get a lousy T-shirt. Rather than a glimpse of Trump himself at "graduation," the lucky ones got to have their picture taken with a life-size photo of the man who is "so rich, it's not even funny." In all, the AG's lawsuit claims that the unlicensed school took in $40 million from students with a promise to make them wealthy through expensive seminars. Instead, TU left them in debt.
We know Trump as the "short-fingered vulgarian" (Spy Magazine) and "circus peanut wearing a badger" (Jon Stewart), and by his own constant gloating as the "embodiment of the American Dream." Then there was his brief run for president as a birther and foreign-policy expert based on China selling him inferior drywall.
To that, according to Scheiderman's suit, add the guy who takes the money of kids trying to get a leg up in the world. These accusations give the lie to all of Trump's preening, if any were needed. If he's richer than God why would he stoop taking money from gullible consumers just hoping to learn how to make a buck in real estate? The entry-level seminars ($1,495) were just occasions to ``upsell'' more costly programs to attendees, according to the suit. Instructors were told to not let students "think three days will be enough to make them successful." They were encouraged to extend the limit on their credit cards to be ready to score a great deal, but it was actually a way for them to pay the "elite" mentorships, which cost as much as $35,000.
Trump says everyone was happy with his courses and he has 10,000 testimonials and tweets to prove it. Maybe it has something to do with President Barack Obama (the AG and the president met last week), he said. Or maybe Schneiderman, a "lightweight," wanted a bigger campaign contribution (Trump gave him $12,500). Trump joined cause with the Tea Party and said the suit might well be "a mini-IRS."
Enjoy for now, Mr. Trump, a world where the only bad news is not to be in the news. My money is on Schneiderman and congratulations for not letting the $12,500 or the bluster get in the way of holding Trump accountable.
(Margaret Carlson is a Bloomberg View columnist. Follow her on Twitter.)