The drawn-out saga involving the lawsuits against Trump University gained a new wrinkle with a New York Times probe that reveals students who took his real estate classes were coerced into giving their instructors positive reviews—with those reviews perhaps serving as "a central component of a business model … that deceived consumers into handing over thousands of dollars with tantalizing promises of riches," as the paper puts it. A review of hundreds of legal files, plus interviews with ex-students and instructors, suggests pressure to make those reviews sing, in addition to what the paper calls "unusual practices," such as not clearly offering anonymity on the forms and requesting the surveys in exchange for graduation certificates. Why this revelation could be critical: the glowing reviews have, as of late, served as Trump's main ammunition against the claims of fraud.
He has referred to the surveys as "beautiful statements" that show a 98% level of satisfaction. There's even a website with thousands of positive evaluations to back him up. But ex-students say their praise came only under duress. "I finally gave in," says one former student who initially gave his teacher a bad score but changed it after a Trump U employee kept badgering him with phone calls. Another says an assigned "mentor" stood over him as he filled out his form, while a third says he was guilted into rating his teacher highly because the teacher basically begged him to. "It's absolutely a con," that ex-student, 76, says. A Trump lawyer says it's "completely implausible to suggest that the 10,000 reviews from the students and their guests were the result of pressure or coercion." The last rating by the BBB in 2010, meanwhile, gave Trump U a D-minus, per the Hill. (Read more Trump University stories.)