Monday, June 6, 2016

Trump University and the get-rich-quick seminar

I'm only posting this teaser, but it's a fascinating article:
In 2005, both of us became fixated on a late-night infomercial that promised access to "hundreds of billions of dollars" in "free government money." As journalism grad students at the time, our evenings often ended with a couple beers as we decompressed by watching whatever was on our tiny 13" TV. And what was on at the time—repeatedly—was a half-hour advertisement for an outfit called "National Grants Conferences" (NGC).

Why did the NGC infomercial captivate us? It wasn’t the charisma of the commercial’s star, ex-football player and former Congressman J.C. Watts (R-Okla.), who was busy making a mockery of whatever credibility he once had. And it wasn’t the enthusiastic couple who founded NGC, Mike and Irene Milin, proclaiming that numerous government grants were there for the taking.

No, we couldn't stop watching because NGC just felt so sleazy. Even in comparison with other get-rich-quick schemes competing for time in the twilight TV hours—the obnoxious guy with the question marks all over his suit, the insufferable smile factories bragging about their real estate conquests from tropical locales—this one seemed suspect. ...

Intrigued, we spent the better part of a year researching NGC, its claims, and its founders’ pasts. We ultimately found that NGC—with several seminar teams circling the country and clearing tens of millions of dollars each year in sales—and its memberships produced no money for any of the customers we interviewed.

Arriving at that conclusion was no great surprise. Nor was it surprising that the NGC money train would continue running well after we wrote a piece about it, which was published on the front page of The Sacramento Bee on July 5, 2006. What was remarkable—and what still feels surreal more than a decade later—is what happened near the end of our reporting.

Donald Trump waltzed into our story.

Yup, this was the start of Trump University. But I'll let you read the rest of the story here.

It's no surprise. Indeed, Donald Trump has always seemed like one of those sleazy pitchmen milking the gullible for their own profit (and no more than since he's been running for president).

This is interesting, too. For one reason or another, Texas politicians let Donald Trump off easy, in an investigation into Trump University:
“Once they got our first subpoena, the first thing the lawyers said was, ‘Okay, we’ll stop doing business in Texas.’ That's common. We didn’t do anything,” Owens said. “In no other case of this magnitude did we leave consumers with $2.6 million out-of-pocket, some of them their life savings, high and dry like this.”


Micro Paywall said...

It's crazy that a presidential candidate for one of the two main parties openly operated a scam diploma mill. These are truly dark times.

Bill Garthright said...

Yes, indeed. But it's always darkest before the dawn, right? :)