In what New York's attorney general called a "stunning reversal," president-elect Donald Trump agreed Friday to settle fraud cases involving
The cases involved a lawsuit by New York state and two class actions suits in California against the university, which promised to reveal Trump's real estate investing "secrets" to people who enrolled in the courses.
New York Attorney General
"Today's $25 million settlement agreement is a stunning reversal by
Trump's defense team said the decision was made to settle so that years of potential litigation could be avoided.
“This would have gone on for a long, long time and would have been a very significant distraction,” said Daniel M. Petrocelli, the lead attorney who represented Trump in the case.
Trump had publicly vowed not to settle the lawsuits and suggested at one point during his presidential campaign that he might reopen the school, which closed in 2010. He told supporters at a May rally that he would come to San Diego to testify after winning the presidency.
“I could have settled this case numerous times, but I don’t want to settle cases when we’re right. I don’t believe in it. And when you start settling cases, you know what happens? Everybody sues you because you get known as a settler. One thing about me, I am not known as a settler,” Trump said at the time.
However, an exclusive analysis by USA TODAY of more than 4,000 lawsuits involving Trump and his companies over the years shows that just isn't true.
USA TODAY tracked down the records in thousands of Trump's court battles dating back to the 1980s, in courts coast to coast, and found that the business mogul settled lawsuits at least 259 times. Almost 200 of those were cases where he and his companies were defendants, although the terms of the settlement agreements often are kept out of court records and plaintiffs are required to sign agreements pledging not to disclose details. In hundreds more cases, court records indicate legal disputes were resolved outside court with the details shielded from public view.
Also, the USA TODAY database of court records shows today's settlement is unique in its size. While there may be larger settlements in Trump's lawsuits that are shielded by non-disclosure agreements or sealed records -- notably his divorce from Ivana Trump, which remains under seal despite attempts by the media to obtain the records during the presidential campaign -- the $25 million payout is by far the largest Trump's empire has paid out to someone.
Dive into Donald Trump's thousands of lawsuits
Friday's settlement comes only days before trial was set to begin in California in one of the class action lawsuits. Trump's lawyers had sought a delay in the run-up to his inauguration, but the judge ruled that the trial go ahead as scheduled and that Trump would be required to testify, although likely by videotape.
Last week, at a pretrial hearing in San Diego, Trump's lawyers said they were open to settlement. U.S. District Court Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who is hearing the case in California, brought up the possibility in court of another federal judge, Jeffrey Miller, assisting the parties in trying to find a way to settle the case before trial.
"I can tell you right now I'm all ears," Trump lawyer Daniel Petrocelli told Curiel.
"More than 5,000 people across the country who paid Donald Trump $40 million to teach them his hard-sell tactics got a hard lesson in bait-and-switch," Schneiderman said in a statement at the time. "Mr. Trump used his celebrity status and personally appeared in commercials making false promises to convince people to spend tens of thousands of dollars they couldn't afford for lessons they never got.”
Schneiderman alleged the teachers were not personally selected by Trump, despite claims in the university's ads, and that the students did not ever meet the real estate mogul. The state earlier forced Trump University to quit referring to itself as a university because it was not licensed as such in New York.
The political impact of the settlement is unclear, as are its legal implications to future Trump lawsuits.
"Settling these cases will surely help the President-elect as a political matter," Chris Peterson, a law professor at the University of Utah who spent the year studying the Trump University cases. He had opined that a civil court finding that Trump and his companies were financially liable for defrauding thousands of Trump University students could technically open the door to Congress pursuing impeachment proceedings against Trump.
"That being said, the settlement will likely help the country turn the page on the sordid details of President-elect Trump's alleged fraud and avoid the embarrassment of his testimony and potential loss at trial," Peterson said.
Trump, who dismissed Schneiderman as a "lightweight," vigorously denied the fraud charges and claimed 98% of the people who signed up for the courses expressed satisfaction with them. This was not true.
In 2013 tweet, Trump ridiculed the move by the New York attorney general, saying: "Why did failing A.G. Eric Schneiderman, after years of looking, file his pathetic lawsuit on a SATURDAY afternoon (unheard of)? No Case!"
Thanx to USA TODAY
I was hoping the victims of the fraud would hold out for a trial and publicly expose Trump for the crook he is. But Trump wanted it quashed immediately so there was no cause for impeachment. He paid an absolutely stunning amount to shut their mouths.
A dear friend told me once that everyone has their price. It must be true. He made them an offer they couldn't refuse.
Here's the kicker. The thousands of people across the country who fell for this scam paid, in total, $40 million to Trump University ... so by settling for $25 million, Trump still comes out ahead.