INVESTIGATIVE REPORT: Ex-Trump U Students Supplied by Campaign Beholden to Trump

WASHINGTON (AP) -
In this May 23, 2005 photo, Donald Trump, left, listens as Michael Sexton introduces him at a news conference in New York, where he announced the establishment of Trump University. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews, File)
In this May 23, 2005 photo, Donald Trump, left, listens as Michael Sexton introduces him at a news conference in New York, where he announced the establishment of Trump University. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews, File)

Former students put forward by Donald Trump’s campaign to help deflect criticism of his defunct real-estate seminars have business ties to the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.

The campaign posted a web video Wednesday defending Trump University after a federal judge unsealed documents in a long-running lawsuit filed by ex-students who claim they were fleeced. The seminars ended in 2011 amid a flurry of complaints and state fraud investigations.

“The students on this video are representative of the many students who were overwhelmingly satisfied with Trump University,” the campaign said. “Rather than listen to the media spin, listen to the hard-working students who can attest first-hand to the truth about Trump University.”

The testimonials, recently filmed at Trump Tower in New York, feature Casey Hoban, a Connecticut bottled-water entrepreneur who said he earned “incalculable” profits on real estate deals after attending one of Trump’s two-day courses about a decade ago.

Not disclosed by the campaign is that Hoban is also a Trump family acquaintance, whose protein-infused water is stocked at some of Trump’s golf courses, restaurants and resorts.

Hoban told The Associated Press that his business relationship with the Trump organization bloomed after he attended a charity event held last year held by a Trump family foundation. Trump’s son Eric Trump later tweeted Hoban a personal thank-you for his $25,000 donation.

That largesse led to an invitation for Hoban and his family to visit Trump Tower last year for a personal tour of campaign headquarters, where they posed smiling for a photo holding “Trump for President” placards.

Hoban told the AP that he had only met the Trumps a couple of times and that his budding business relationship with the Trump empire had nothing to do with his offer to the campaign to issue a public endorsement of Trump U.

“Absolutely not, from the bottom of my heart,” Hoban said. “I offered to support Trump University because I did some amazing investments after going to that class. I thought it was a way to tell the world that after going to that class at Trump University I prospered.”

The campaign’s video also featured Michelle Gunn of Tennessee, who said she made back her Trump University tuition on her very first real-estate deal.

“I see and hear there are former Trump University students coming out, and I have to sit back and think to myself if they were given the same education, the same opportunity, how come they didn’t have the same results?” Gunn says in the video. “I think that is because you have to take action upon yourself. You have to go out and make it happen.”

Not mentioned by the campaign is that the celebrity billionaire previously endorsed a self-help book authored by Gunn’s teenage son. A website promoting the book also features a photo of a smiling Houston Gunn posing with Trump in what appears to be Trump’s office in the Trump Tower.

Michelle Gunn, who is listed as a witness for the defense in a lawsuit against Trump U, previously appeared in videos praising another business seminar program and a marketing service, both unrelated to Trump’s enterprises.

The campaign’s video featured a third former Trump University student, Kent Moyer, who called the seminars “outstanding.” He founded a Beverly Hills, California-based company that specializes in providing security to the wealthy and famous.

Moyer told the AP that he does not recall ever personally meeting Trump, but said he has long admired the flashy businessman. He said he reached out to Trump’s lawyers after reading about class-action lawsuits alleging the program was a scam posing as a real academic institution.

“I had nothing but a great experience with Trump University,” Moyer said. “Everyone knew it wasn’t a real university. … What the video doesn’t talk about is that because of Trump University I ultimately enrolled in 2007 in the Wharton Business School.”

Moyer has often described himself in media appearances and in written materials as an alumnus of the prestigious business school at the University of Pennsylvania, of which Trump and some of his children are graduates. Upon questioning by AP, Moyer clarified that he had attended two-week executive seminars offered by Wharton and had never been academically enrolled as a student at the university. He does not have a Bachelor’s degree.

The once-confidential manuals for Donald Trump’s one-time real estate business, which were unsealed this week, show that the business encouraged high-pressure sales tactics and recognized that it faced legal risks.

A judge unsealed the documents earlier this week as part of a class action lawsuit filed by former students of Trump University, Trump’s real estate seminar company. The manuals call into question Trump’s portrayal of his one-time real estate seminar course as an uncontroversial operation focused on helping aspiring investors. The guides encourage aggressive sales tactics and also advise staff on how to deal with prosecutors investigating Trump’s business.

Trump University stopped operating in 2011. In addition to litigation brought by New York, the Republican attorney general in Texas also investigated Trump University, ultimately dropping the probe in exchange for its promise to cease operating in the state.

On Thursday, Trump was defiant on Twitter about the Trump University investigation, tweeting, “Even though I have a very biased and unfair judge in the Trump U civil case in San Diego, I have thousands of great reviews & will win case!” and, “After the litigation is disposed of and the case won, I have instructed my execs to open Trump U(?), so much interest in it! I will be pres.”