Forget Clinton's fake scandals — Donald Trump's history of real estate grifts is the real deal

Trump is caught up in not one, but two shady scandals involving tricking people into shady real estate investments

By Amanda Marcotte

Senior Writer

Published June 1, 2016 4:31PM (EDT)

Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump   (Reuters/Stephen Lam/Lucas Jackson/Photo montage by Salon)
Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump (Reuters/Stephen Lam/Lucas Jackson/Photo montage by Salon)

The hive of bullies and cranks that Donald Trump calls his "campaign staff" have clearly hit on what they believe to be a killer opposition strategy, culled directly from the collective genius of the Free Republic message boards: Harp on Hillary Clinton's long history of nothingburger "scandals" invented by right-wing conspiracy theorists. Trump himself has gotten busy insinuating

Trump himself has gotten busy insinuating she conspired to murder Vince Foster and that her marriage is some sort of weird two-man sex predator cult. One of his staff members even accidentally tipped off Politico about their plans to try to make "Whitewater" a thing, confident that they can make this non-scandal take off, unlike the thousands of professional conservative faux scandal-mongerers before them.

Trump's obsession with painting Clinton as corrupt is looking more and more like a simple case of projection, however. There's no real evidence that all these Clinton "scandals" are anything but a bunch of desperate right wing conspiracy theories. There is, however, a growing pile of irrefutable evidence that Trump is a straight-up grifter, a man so incapable of nourishing healthy businesses that he turned towards the shadier world of running real estate and "seminar" cons.

And while it remains to be seen if Trump broke any laws while running his cons, what is now indisputable that he's a corrupt snake oil salesman who ran grifts on elderly and desperate people, exploiting his TV presence and famous name to bait people into thinking his cons were trustworthy investments.

A federal judge released an enormous collection of documents this week regarding an ongoing lawsuit over Trump University, one of those shady "seminar" organizations that are really just get-rich-quick scams. Trump fought tooth and nail to keep those documents from getting released, and now that it's happening, he's hustling as hard as he can to discredit the judge with nakedly racist appeals, as if the fact that judge is Hispanic somehow means you can't trust court documents detailing how Trump U preyed on elderly people and single parents with false promises of financial security in exchange for taking a few expensive courses that are clearly useless.

A perusal of what's in the evidence released by the judge makes it clear why Trump wants to be talking about anything else but the contents of those documents. The fact that Trump lied when he promised that the the courses were taught by professors "hand-picked" by himself is the least of it. Even more stomach-churning is the revelation of the Trump U recruitment team was openly predatory towards their marks, using all manner of hard sell tactics that “preyed upon the elderly and uneducated to separate them from their money," as one disgusted salesman who quit testified.

""[D]o you like living paycheck to paycheck?" recruiters were told to say to people who, reasonably, objected to maxing out their credit card on this shady deal. "Do you enjoy seeing everyone else but yourself in their dream houses and driving their dreams cars with huge checking accounts? Those people saw an opportunity, and didn't make excuses, like what you're doing now."

That's just a taste of the arm-twisting tactics Trump U used to drain the bank accounts and max out the credit cards of ordinary people, all so that Trump could refinish more rooms in his home with marble floors. Those with a strong stomach can read more at the Washington Post. But the disturbing thing is that this isn't even the only grift that Trump is running like it.

Another shady deal that Trump is involved in also has to do with real estate. Trump has set up a little side business that is also grift-y in nature, where he licenses his name to other real estate developers to trick would-be investors into thinking they are buying into an actual Trump property.

The scam goes like this: A real estate developer who wants to attract investors in his risky development idea licenses Trump's name. Brochures go out to would-be buyers, luring them into giving the developer money to build vacation condos by putting Trump's name and picture all over the place, leading them to think they investing with an experienced and famous businessman, instead the no-name they are actually handing money over to. They only find out that they are not buying a Trump property after the development fails and they are left short of hundreds of thousands of dollars without any vacation condo to show for it.

As CNN reports, this whole deal is basically a risk-free way for Trump to make millions. If he gives his name to a developer who manages to successfully build and sell his vacation condos, then Trump gets a cut. But if the development collapses and the money disappears, Trump himself hasn't put up a penny — just his name — and so he loses nothing. But the people who made deposits, believing they were buying a piece of a Trump property, lose their money.

And these condo developments frequently go under, which is why Trump has been sued over this Ft. Lauderdale, Tampa, Waikiki, Baja Mexico and Toronto.

In a lot of ways, Trump's campaign is an extension of these real estate grifts he's involved with. The reason people were tricked into buying phony investment "classes" at Trump U or into buying extremely risky condo shares was that they believed in the Trump name. They thought he was the guy that is portrayed on "The Apprentice": A  hard-nosed but effective businessman, someone who has had real success in real estate development.

For the same reason, his voters put their trust in him. They know the guy's a showboat and a clown, but the fact that he's been productive in real estate development is reassuring, making his followers believe there must be a core competency underneath all the antics.

But Trump's involvement with so many real estate grifts should make it clear that his not the captain of industry he portrays himself as. On the contrary, this all suggests that a significant portion of his income is not coming from legitimate investments, but from selling people snake oil.

Add to that the fact that Trump won't release his tax returns and analyses of his holdings suggest that he's using accounting tricks to seem richer than he actually is. Put it altogether and it starts to look very much like Trump is hiding the fact that he's not some kind of real estate genius, but a shady operator who is all too willing to line his own coffers by defrauding grandmas and single mothers.

This is the guy that thinks that he can make "Whitewater" a thing. By all means, Trump, let's make this election about shady real estate deals. Because while no one understands or really cares about Whitewater, they are probably quite capable of understanding what kind of man grifts people with get-rich-quick schemes and shady vacation condo sales pitches.

By Amanda Marcotte

Amanda Marcotte is a senior politics writer at Salon and the author of "Troll Nation: How The Right Became Trump-Worshipping Monsters Set On Rat-F*cking Liberals, America, and Truth Itself." Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte and sign up for her biweekly politics newsletter, Standing Room Only.

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Donald Trump Elections 2016 Trump Fraud Trump Lawsuits Trump University Trump Vacation Condos