WASHINGTON — Donald Trump says he hand-picked only the best to teach success at Trump University. But dozens of those hired by the company had checkered pasts — including serious financial problems and even convictions for cocaine trafficking or child molestation, an Associated Press investigation has found.
The AP identified 107 people listed as speakers and staff on more than 21,000 pages of customer-satisfaction surveys the Republican presidential nominee has released as part of his defence against three lawsuits.
Trump and his attorneys have said repeatedly that the surveys show the overwhelming majority of participants were satisfied. However, the suits allege his namesake real-estate seminars were a massive fraud designed to "upsell'' students into buying course packages costing as much as $35,000.
Donald Trump gestures as he poses for a photo during an in-store appearance to sign copies of "How To Build Wealth," which is a series of nine audio business courses created by Trump University, at a Barnes & Noble store January 10, 2005 in New York City. (Photo: Scott Gries/Getty Images)
As a candidate, Trump has said he will run the U.S. government like he runs his businesses. So his past hiring practices could offer insight into how a President Trump might fill scores of key federal positions.
Some names from the surveys were too common to narrow down to individuals, but AP used online resumes, court filings and other public records to piece together detailed background checks on 68 former Trump staffers. The results could complicate Trump's legal defence that his Trump University "apprentices'' got the top-flight instructors and mentors they paid for.
Half of the 68 former faculty and staff identified by AP had personal bankruptcies, foreclosures, credit card defaults, tax liens or other indicators of significant money troubles prior to teaching Trump University courses promoting "wealth building'' and "how to invest like a billionaire,'' according to AP's review. Many of those hired to teach did not have college degrees and were not licensed to broker real estate.
At least four had felony convictions.
"At Trump University we teach success. That's what it's all about. Success. It's going to happen to you."
— Donald Trump, in promotional material for Trump University
They include Ron P. Broussard Jr., who was hired to the Trump University staff in 2007 after years serving as a motivational speaker at get-rich-quick seminars taught in hotel conference rooms.
Though he has never been licensed as a real estate agent or broker, Broussard is listed as "staff'' or "co-ordinator'' for at least five Trump seminars titled "Fast Track to Foreclosure.''
Records show the former Army sergeant was convicted at court-martial in 1994 of sodomy and indecent acts with a child. He then served five years in the military prison at Leavenworth, Kansas.
Broussard, who now lives in Duluth, Georgia, is a registered sex offender. He told AP that his conviction involved the 8-year-old daughter of a fellow soldier.
"Those were trumped-up charges,'' said Broussard, 48. "She said that I fondled her and was trying to have relations with her.''
He declined to answer further questions, citing a non-disclosure agreement he signed with Trump University.
In this May 23, 2005, file 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. (Photo/Bebeto Matthews/Associated Press)
In a 2005 video targeted at prospective students, Trump said he personally vetted those hired to run his seminars.
"At Trump University we teach success. That's what it's all about. Success. It's going to happen to you,'' Trump said in a promotional video, looking intently into the camera. "We're going to have professors and adjunct professors that are absolutely terrific — terrific people, terrific brains, successful. We are going to have the best of the best. ... These are all people that are hand-picked by me.''
Trump University ceased operations in 2010 amid mounting complaints from former students and inquiries from state regulators.
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman sued in 2013, alleging that the university was a "fraud from beginning to end,'' geared toward pressuring students into buying ever more expensive seminars, course materials and mentoring services of little educational value. Regulators say Trump University staff often targeted senior citizens or those already in dire financial straits, encouraging them to max out their credit cards to pay for classes they couldn't afford.
In California, there are two federal class action suits filed on behalf of former students. One case is headed to trial Nov. 28, three weeks after the presidential election. In an unusual legal manoeuvr, Trump's lawyers last week asked the federal judge overseeing the case to exclude any statements he made during the presidential campaign, arguing that allowing jurors to hear the Republican nominee's words would irreparably prejudice them against him.
In sworn depositions taken as part of the lawsuits, Trump said he had not met all of those hired at Trump University, though he often reviewed their resumes.
Asked whether he could recall the names of any of his hand-picked instructors, Trump, who in the past said he had "one of the world's greatest memories,'' said he was unable to do so.
Timothy C. Gorsline, who taught at least eight Trump University seminars in 2008, pleaded no contest a decade earlier to felony cocaine possession, according to an electronic database of Florida court records.
Copies of Gorsline's resume and Trump University employment questionnaire were filed as evidence in the New York lawsuit. They showed that when asked whether he had been convicted of a felony, Gorsline marked an X indicating "Yes.''
Records show the IRS also filed a lien against Gorsline in 1996 for more than $15,400 in unpaid taxes and interest.
Gorsline, 57, did not respond to multiple phone messages. A woman who answered the door at his home in Largo, Florida, confirmed that Gorsline lived there, but he did not respond to a message asking him to contact the AP.
When a lawyer asked Trump in a December 2015 deposition if he had ever heard of Gorsline, the businessman responded that "too many years'' had passed for him to recall.
Records also show Damian D. Pell, who helped teach at least 23 Trump University seminars from 2008 to 2010, pleaded guilty in Florida to a felony charge of trafficking cocaine.
According to court and arrest records, Pell's car was pulled over by Charlotte County Sheriff's deputies in June 1999 as part of an ongoing narcotics investigation. Authorities recovered 62 grams of powder cocaine during the traffic stop and 1,200 grams in a subsequent search of his home — a haul with a street value in excess of $154,000 according to U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration price data adjusted for inflation.
After Pell co-operated with law enforcement against other drug dealers, a judge sentenced him to three years in state prison and a $50,000 fine, according to records.
During the period he was working for Trump University, Pell was also sued by a debt collection company over a credit card balance of more than $7,600, records show. A judge ordered him to repay the debt with interest, according to court records.
Pell, 35, initially indicated in a phone call he was willing to talk about his experience at Trump University at a later time, but he did not respond to subsequent messages. Street addresses listed for him on Florida business records turned out to be post office boxes at shipping stores.
Spencer J. Raffel, who staffed a Trump University event in 2008, has a felony conviction in Florida for grand theft, according to court records. He was sentenced to serve three years of probation in 1989.
Court records also showed that Raffel, 52, has a multi-decade history of failing to pay debts, including defaulting on real estate loans during the same period he was helping teach students how to profit from properties in foreclosure.
Raffel did not respond to phone messages, and efforts to reach him at his listed Cape Coral, Florida, address were unsuccessful.
Asked about the former staffers with felony records, Trump Organization lawyer Jill Martin noted the company's internal surveys showing high rates of customer satisfaction.
"Three of the four individuals cherry picked by the AP were not course instructors and are certainly not representative of the professional instruction staff engaged by Trump University,'' said Martin, a member of the legal team defending Trump from the lawsuits. "As shown by the 98 per cent approval rating, students were extremely satisfied with the instruction they received and valuable information they obtained by attending Trump University.''
Records uncovered as part of the lawsuits show Trump University conducted criminal background checks during its screening process for potential hires, though Martin declined to discuss the records of specific employees.
While convicted felons represent a small minority of the Trump University staff, AP's review of public records showed serious financial problems were common, including among the high-energy speakers who told students stories of their own purported riches.
Stephen J. Goff declared Chapter 7 bankruptcy in April 2007, three months before he was hired by Trump University.
According to his federal bankruptcy filings, Goff had racked up $750,000 in credit card bills, personal loans, mortgages and other debts. He listed $18,800 in assets.
As with Gorsline, a copy of Goff's Trump University employment questionnaire reviewed by AP showed that he disclosed he was in bankruptcy. Goff was hired anyway, teaching more than 40 seminars with such titles as "Quick Turn Real Estate Profits.''
In 2009, a reporter from the Houston Chronicle newspaper attended a Trump University seminar where Goff presented himself as a financial success story, saying he had flipped more than 200 properties.
"People ask me, 'Steve, if you're making so much in real estate, why do you travel the country teaching people?''' Goff, now 48, was quoted as telling his students. "If it was in your heart to help people, and Donald Trump asked you, what would you do? I got on the first plane.''
Asked in his December deposition whether he knew Goff, Trump said he could not recall the name.
A doorman at the Austin, Texas, apartment building where Goff's address was listed in records said the name was unfamiliar to him.
In his 2005 video, Trump said his hand-picked instructors would give his students a better education than top-level university business schools.
"Honestly, if you don't learn from them, you don't learn from me. If you don't learn from the people we're going to be putting forward — these are all people that are hand-picked by me — then you're not going to make it in terms of the world of success,'' Trump said.
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