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President Donald Trump is facing a class action lawsuit for allegedly tricking consumers into investing in companies that he was paid to endorse — including one that was featured twice on The Celebrity Apprentice.
Trump, along with his three oldest children, is being sued for racketeering, unfair competition and fraud, among other claims.
“The Trumps conned each of these victims into giving up hundreds or thousands of dollars — losses that may experienced as devastating and life-altering,” writes attorney Robbie Kaplan in the 164-page complaint. “Surely the Trumps dismissed these amounts (and the lives they wrecked) as trivial. But by defrauding so many for so long, the Trumps made millions.”
At the center of this suit are at least two multi-level marketing companies, ACN Opportunity and The Trump Network, and Business Strategies Group, a company which allegedly promised that attendees of pricey seminars would learn Trump’s “secrets to success.”
According to the complaint, which was filed Monday in New York federal court, Trump used his long-cultivated brand as a successful entrepreneur to “ensnare vulnerable consumers” in these MLM and training scams.
Kaplan claims Trump received secret payments in exchange for misleading consumers into believing that they would have a reasonable probability of success if they invested, that he was endorsing them because he believed in them and that he had personal experience with the investments.
Trump also arranged for ACN appear on a 2009 and 2011 episode of The Celebrity Apprentice, according to the complaint, and claimed the company did “half-a-billion dollars worth of sales a year.”
Lead plaintiff Jane Doe is an anonymous woman who works as a hospice caregiver in California. She claims she was skeptical after attending a 2014 ACN recruitment meeting, but was convinced by Trump’s promotional video for the company and its appearance on Celebrity Apprentice. She paid thousands of dollars in fees and expenses in connection to the business, but only earned $38 through her participation.
An anonymous California resident, referred to as Luke Loe, tells a similar story, claiming he was familiar with Trump because of the reality series and believed him to be “savvy.” He borrowed $499 from a friend to pay the ACN registration fee, and was homeless at the time according to the complaint, and never received any income from the work.
A Maryland man, suing as Richard Roe, says he was convinced to sign up for ACN after seeing a clip from Celebrity Apprentice on YouTube. The fourth lead plaintiff, Mary Moe, also claims Trump’s endorsement convinced her she could make money with ACN.
Kaplan alleges that these MLM’s were part of Trump’s attempt to “restore his brand” in the early 2000s because The Trump Organization was “in dire straits” and he had been taking hits from the tabloids for living a “lavish lifestyle while his empire crumbled around him.”
Enter Mark Burnett, who in 2002 pitched Trump the idea of The Apprentice, which eventually led to its spinoff The Celebrity Apprentice.
Kaplan argues that the shows portrayed Trump to audiences as “a highly successful and fabulously wealthy entrepreneur” — but producers acknowledged it was fiction. She quotes one as saying, “How funny is it to have this washed-up, five-time bankruptcy guy, who lives in a golden palace that other people are paying for — that he is now the ‘executive in charge of this big corporation’?”
The rebrand worked, according to the lawsuit, in which Kaplan also argues that Trump “has a long and storied history of wildly exaggerating his net worth” and nods to the time he sued an author for defamation for referring to him as a “millionaire.”
Beginning in 2005, Kaplan claims, Trump used his notoriety and “casual willingness to make false and misleading statements” to con consumers into paying for training that they believed would make them successful, too.
Trump’s lawyer has not yet responded to The Hollywood Reporter‘s request for comment on the complaint, which is posted below. But Trump Organization chief legal officer Alan Garten sent a statement to The New York Times saying, “This is clearly just another effort by opponents of the President to use the court system to advance a political agenda.”
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