Ashley Austin: Trumped and scammed

Wednesday, September 23, 2015 - 6:35pm

Fast and brash, Donald Trump has certainly succeeded in enrapturing the American public with his unconventional presidential campaign. We have watched him before, hosting “The Apprentice” and “Celebrity Apprentice” as he cashed in for providing us with raucous entertainment disguised as legitimate business. We should ask ourselves how he would cash in armed with the disguise as the democratically elected American president. Because he would cash in.

What lies beneath the show is the quagmire of this campaign. Accusations of associations with the Italian-American mafia, running an alleged scam known as Trump University and shepherding four businesses into bankruptcy bring about questions regarding how he would run the country.

First, if the mob association accusations made by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Cay Johnston and journalist Wayne Barrett are true, Trump has done business with Philadelphia and New York crime families. He purchased the future site of Atlantic City’s Trump Plaza for twice its market value from Philadelphia mobster Salvatore Testa and constructed the casino using two firms controlled by Philadelphia mob boss “Little Nicky” Scarfo. Additionally, Trump Tower and other New York City properties were constructed with concrete from a firm owned by NYC bosses “Fat Tony” Salerno and “Big Paul” Castellano. These ties reveal Trump’s resolve to achieve business at any cost and a potential presidency marked by cronyism and corruption. The price for our country could be steep if Mr. Trump facilitated organized crime as America’s leader.

Furthermore, Trump ran an alleged scam himself. Trump University enrolled students who lost up to $35,000 each in fees for courses and seminars that failed to provide them with degrees or participation in an accredited program. Trump is accused of overcharging former students for services that were not delivered.

Trump launched Trump University in 2005, offering courses and seminars in real estate. Fees ranged from $1,495 for a three-day seminar to up to $25,000 for individual coaching. Investors’ software packages cost $2,000 and a “Gold Elite” package for $34,995 promised to provide the mentorship necessary for jump-starting a real-estate business, but often the mentors were unreachable.

Controversy began when the New York State Bureau of Education declared that calling the organization a university was possibly illegal in 2010, leading to the organization to change its name to The Trump Entrepreneur Initiative.

The Trump Entrepreneur Initiative lasted until 2013, at which time the Office of the New York Attorney General had gathered enough evidence from its 2012 investigation to file the civil lawsuit. The now defunct Trump Entrepreneur Initiative was embroiled in a $40 million civil lawsuit filed by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and was found guilty of not obtaining a license for a for-profit university. The organization continues to face a class-action suit in California.

The ongoing Trump University fiasco indicates that Trump hasn’t followed all of our country’s laws and has been keen to take advantage of the more vulnerable. A Trump presidency could include tax breaks and incentives for for-profit vocational schools and a reduction in Pell grants and government loans for nonprofit universities.

As college students, we must ask ourselves what a man who ran a for-profit university into destruction would do for us. He has stated on numerous occasions that he wants to cut the U.S. Department of Education down, perhaps as a way to ease regulations. He isn’t afraid to leave behind his messes.

Additionally, four of Trump’s businesses in Atlantic City declared bankruptcy, including: Trump’s Taj Mahal (1991), Trump Plaza Hotel (1992), Trump Hotels and Casino Resorts (2004) and Trump Entertainment Resorts (2009). When asked about these bankruptcies by ABC’s George Stephanopoulos in 2011, Trump remarked, “I’ve used the laws of this country to pare debt … We’ll have the company. We’ll throw it into a chapter. We’ll negotiate with the banks. We’ll make a fantastic deal. You know, it’s like on ‘The Apprentice.’ It’s not personal. It’s just business.”

Well, Mr. Trump, continue to use the laws of this country to your advantage. It seems to be working out. The Republican candidate has masterfully marketed an image of a blunt businessman who has achieved “greatness” through obtaining an exaggerated amount of wealth, but in actuality he is hustling us all. His past of cutting deals with the mafia, scamming students and running his Atlantic City businesses to the ground highlight his lack of empathy, the most important quality for our country’s commander in chief.

Ashley Austin can be reached at agracea@umich.edu