— by Montgomery County Commissioner Josh Shapiro
Recently unsealed court documents from an ongoing lawsuit against Trump University revealed new details about the alleged fraudulent practices of the unaccredited, for-profit “university” founded by Donald Trump. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who has filed a $40 million lawsuit alleging unfair and deceptive practices by Trump and his associates, summarized the case by saying, “It’s straight-up fraud.”
The records indicate that Trump University preyed on people looking for hope, opportunity and new careers in the midst of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. A court will determine Mr. Trump’s responsibility, but what this case shows is a fact of life we know too well: Everyday folks will be taken advantage of by powerful interests when no one is looking and no one holds them accountable. If I am elected Pennsylvania attorney general, I will be watching.
The Trump University case playing out on cable TV and in courts across the country has a Pennsylvania connection. One plaintiff is a Pittsburgh woman named Melissa Norris, who spent $17,000 for a Trump University seminar that included a coach who was supposed to help her find real-estate investments. This “coach” turned out to be a convicted criminal and the investment “opportunity” he directed her to turned out to be a Ponzi scheme.
When Ms. Norris lost a devastating $230,000, she had no way to recoup her loss. With cases pending across the country, there are likely many men and women like Ms. Norris who have been harmed.
The Trump University scandal shines a light on the for-profit education industry, which is built to maximize profits. According to a 2012 U.S. Senate report, for-profit colleges spent 23% of their revenue on marketing and recruiting and just 17% on instruction. Traditional nonprofit universities, such as Pitt, Duquesne and Carnegie Mellon, spent just 1% of revenue on recruitment.
For-profit colleges have also come under fire for abusive and fraudulent sales tactics, and for failing to deliver promised skills to their students. For-profit colleges have particularly focused on recruiting vulnerable veterans, turning G.I. Bill benefits into profits. As a result, veterans groups have called for tougher regulation by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Facts like these have led 37 of America’s attorneys general, Republicans and Democrats, to work with federal agencies to investigate and hold for-profit colleges accountable. Many for-profit programs can be beneficial, but it’s clear that students of these institutions need more protection.
The Trump University case is a prime example of powerful interests taking advantage of hard-working Pennsylvanians and a poignant reminder of why we need an attorney general who is tough, independent and who will fight for the people. You shouldn’t need an army of lawyers to get a fair hearing when you’ve been ripped off.
The author is Montgomery County commissioner and Democratic nominee for Pennsylvania attorney general. The article originally appeared in The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and is reprinted here courtesy of the author.