By VERENA DOBNIK, Associated Press
NEW YORK (AP) — Bob Guillo spent almost $35,000 hoping to learn some of Donald Trump's real estate secrets. Instead, he says, he left the sessions of Trump University cash-poor, with little more than a photo of himself next to a life-size cardboard cutout of the mogul, who never even showed up.
"They told everybody to get their credit card limits raised to buy real estate, but the true purpose was to pay $35,000 for the next bunch of seminars," said Guillo, of Manhasset, on Long Island.
Nora Hanna dished out about $17,000 for the Trump University program, concluding after just a few days that "what I learned there, I could read on the Internet."
The Brooklyn woman fought for two months to get her money back as promised to those who changed their mind within three days. "They wouldn't answer my calls or emails," she said. Eventually, she said, her money was returned.
Trump's former students are coming forward to tell their stories in the wake of a $40 million lawsuit against "The Apprentice" star and his real estate school by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who says Trump helped run a phony university that promised to make students rich but instead steered them into expensive and largely useless seminars.
The billionaire developer says that Schneiderman's lawsuit is false and that his school had done a "fantastic job," with a 98 percent approval rating among students from around the country. He called the attorney general "a political hack looking to get publicity."
Guillo said that in the group seminars he attended in New York hotel conference rooms in 2009 and early 2010, an instructor "was flashing his Rolex watch and wearing a very expensive suit and fancy cufflinks as he told us his rags-to-riches story."
"We followed PowerPoint presentations, and they gave us loose-leaf manuals and websites you could pull up on your home computer. We were all scammed," Guillo said.
Not everyone feels that way.
Marla Rains-Colic called her experience "extremely positive."
"It was an education that opened the door for us in real estate," said Rains-Colic, who with her husband paid $25,000 for a private, three-day "mentorship" program" in St. Louis with a real estate expert from Wisconsin chosen by Trump's organization.
Michael Greco is another grateful student who calls the lawsuit baseless. After a free introductory presentation, the New Jersey resident spent $500 for an online tutorial offered by Trump.
"I got my value, and it was real value," Greco said, adding that he never felt pressured to pay or do any more than that. "I got my money's worth."
According to the lawsuit, some students in the initial three-day group seminar costing $1,495 were upset that they were pressured to take more expensive Trump "Elite" programs.
Asked for names of students who testified for the lawsuit, Schneiderman's office provided only two — Guillo's and Hanna's.
Another student claiming the program didn't fulfill its promise of insider expertise is Sema Tekinay. She said she paid $10,000 in 2009 and was supposed to get three instructor-led courses in New York or New Jersey — near her Manhattan home — with access to advisers to guide her to private lenders and foreclosed properties.
Instead, she said, she was told the courses would be offered in Texas and California — and then, only online.
She tried to cancel but was told she could not because three days had already passed.
"I felt fooled," she said.
Another student, Gregory Ryan, has sued Trump University separately in state court on Long Island, saying he was the victim of a $25,000 "rip-off."
And in California, Tarla Makaeff filed a class-action lawsuit against Trump University in 2010 in San Diego federal court on behalf of students nationwide, claiming she was scammed out of nearly $40,000 while attending seminars in 2008.
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