WASHINGTON (AP) — Donald Trump says he hand-picked only the best to teach success at Trump University. But dozens of those hired by the company had checkered pasts — including serious financial problems and even convictions for cocaine trafficking or child molestation, an Associated Press investigation has found.
The AP identified 107 people listed as speakers and staff on more than 21,000 pages of customer-satisfaction surveys the Republican presidential nominee has released as part of his defense against three lawsuits.
Trump and his attorneys have said repeatedly that the surveys show the overwhelming majority of participants were satisfied. However, the suits allege his namesake real-estate seminars were a massive fraud designed to “upsell” students into buying course packages costing as much as $35,000.
As a candidate, Trump has said he will run the U.S. government like he runs his businesses. So his past hiring practices could offer insight into how a President Trump might fill scores of key federal positions.
Some names from the surveys were too common to narrow down to individuals, but AP was able to use online resumes, court filings and other public records to piece together detailed background checks on 68 former Trump staffers. The results could complicate Trump’s legal defense that his Trump University “apprentices” got the top-flight instructors and mentors they paid for.
Half the 68 former faculty and staff identified by AP had personal bankruptcies, foreclosures, credit card defaults, tax liens or other indicators of significant money troubles prior to teaching Trump University courses promoting “wealth building” and “how to invest like a billionaire,” according to AP’s review. Many of those hired to teach did not have college degrees and were not licensed to broker real estate.
At least four had been convicted of felonies.
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They include Ron P. Broussard Jr., who was hired to the Trump University staff in 2007 after years serving as a motivational speaker at get-rich-quick seminars taught in hotel conference rooms. Broussard is listed as “staff” or “coordinator” for at least five Trump courses.
Records show the former Army sergeant was convicted at court-martial in 1994 of sodomy and indecent acts with a child. He served five years in the military prison at Leavenworth, Kansas.
Broussard, who now lives in Duluth, Georgia, is a registered sex offender. He told AP that his conviction involved the 8-year-old daughter of a fellow soldier.
“Those were trumped-up charges,” said Broussard, 48. “She said that I fondled her and was trying to have relations with her.”
In a 2005 video targeted at prospective students, Trump said he personally vetted those hired to run his seminars.
“At Trump University we teach success,” Trump said. “We are going to have the best of the best. … These are all people that are hand-picked by me.”
Trump University ceased operations in 2010 amid mounting complaints from former students and inquiries from state regulators.
Timothy C. Gorsline, who taught at least eight Trump University seminars in 2008, pleaded no contest a decade earlier to felony cocaine possession, according to an electronic database of Florida court records.
Copies of Gorsline’s resume and Trump University employment questionnaire were filed as evidence in the New York lawsuit. They showed that when asked whether he had been convicted of a felony, Gorsline marked an X indicating “Yes.”
Gorsline, 57, did not respond to multiple messages left by phone and at his home.
Records also show Damian D. Pell, who helped teach at least 23 Trump University seminars from 2008 to 2010, pleaded guilty in Florida to a felony charge of trafficking cocaine. After cooperating with law enforcement against other drug dealers, he was sentenced to three years in state prison and a $50,000 fine, according to records.
Pell, 35, declined to discuss his experience at Trump University.
Spencer J. Raffel, who staffed a Trump University event in 2008, has a felony conviction in Florida for grand theft, according to court records. He was sentenced to serve three years of probation in 1989.
Raffel, 52, did not respond to phone messages.
Asked about the former staffers with felony records, Trump Organization lawyer Jill Martin noted the company’s internal surveys showing high rates of customer satisfaction.
“Three of the four individuals cherry picked by the AP were not course instructors and are certainly not representative of the professional instruction staff engaged by Trump University,” Martin said.
While convicted felons represent a small minority of the Trump University staff, AP’s review of public records showed serious financial problems were common, including among the high-energy speakers who told students stories of their own purported riches.
Stephen J. Goff declared Chapter 7 bankruptcy in April 2007, just three months before he was hired by Trump University.
According to his federal bankruptcy filings, Goff had racked up $750,000 in credit card bills, personal loans, mortgages and other debts. He listed $18,800 in assets.
As with Gorsline, a copy of Goff’s Trump University employment questionnaire reviewed by AP showed that he disclosed he was in bankruptcy. Goff was hired anyway, teaching more than 40 seminars.