President Donald Trump, his three eldest children and his company are accused in a class action lawsuit filed Monday in Manhattan federal court of using their brand to make millions by coaxing unsophisticated investors to participate in fraudulent schemes.
Filed on behalf of four anonymous individuals, the lawsuit accuses the President and his children Eric, Donald Jr. and Ivanka Trump of promoting what they described as promising business opportunities with three companies in exchange for "secret" payments: ACN Opportunity, a telecommunications marketing company; the Trump Network, a vitamin and health product marketing company; and the Trump Institute, a seminar program that "purported to sell Trump's 'secrets to success.' "
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The suit claims that the Trumps in fact "deliberately misled" consumers about the likely success of their investments. The 160-page lawsuit further claims the Trumps engaged in "a pattern of racketeering activity" and "were aware that the vast majority of consumers would lose whatever money they invested in the business opportunities and training programs" offered by the three companies. None of the three companies is named as a defendant.
The lawsuit is being funded by a nonprofit with ties to Democratic candidates, the Tesseract Research Center, according to a spokesman for the law firm Kaplan, Hecker & Fink. A partner in that firm, Roberta Kaplan, as well as Andrew G. Celli Jr., of Emery, Celli, Brinckerhoff & Abady, are representing the plaintiffs.
In response to the suit, a lawyer for the Trump Organization, Alan Garten, said the case was "completely meritless" and seized on the Democratic affiliations of Tesseract and the plaintiff's lawyers.
"This is clearly just another effort by opponents of the President to use the court system to advance a political agenda," Garten said in a statement.
He also noted the timing of the suit heading into the midterm elections on November 6, adding: "The motivations here are as plain as day."
A spokesman for the plaintiffs' legal team said the case was filed Monday "because it is ready now."
"We did a thorough investigation and a lot of legal research, and the plaintiffs are eager to file," he added. "No matter when this was filed, the Trump Org would say it was politically motivated."
Trump has faced similar allegations of fraud before, most notably in three lawsuits brought against Trump University, his now-defunct real estate seminar that purported to reveal his business secrets to students. Trump agreed to settle those lawsuits, which alleged the program featured false advertisements and never delivered on its claims, for $25 million just days after the 2016 presidential election.
The new lawsuit filed Monday contends that, as in the Trump University case, the Trump brand and the apparent endorsement from Trump himself were critical in luring unsuspecting investors to the sham companies he promoted.
"Indeed, for the working people who fell prey to the Investments, the Trump endorsement was typically the first thing they learned about the Investments, the reason they took an interest, and the determining factor in their decision to invest," the lawsuit says.
For example, in the case of a plaintiff identified only as "Luke Loe," Trump's appearance in a promotional video shown to prospective ACN participants sealed the deal for Loe as a "good moneymaking opportunity," court filings say. At the time, in 2014, Loe was homeless and working for the Salvation Army, and unable to afford the $499 ACN registration fee. But, based on Trump's endorsement, the filings say, Loe took a $499 loan from a friend to join ACN, then attended 25 to 30 meetings, each costing $10 to $20.
After months of sinking money into the company, including to attend a national convention in Cleveland, where he watched Trump appear again via videotape, Loe realized he'd had enough, and quit ACN.
" 'Trust me,' Trump often said in endorsing and promoting the Investments," the lawsuit adds. "Unfortunately, far too many victims did."
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