Lawsuit claims Trumps profited from marketing scheme aimed at teens
Posted January 31, 2019 4:44 p.m. EST
CNN — An amended class-action lawsuit filed in Manhattan federal court on Thursday accused President Donald Trump, his three eldest children and his company of collaborating with a fraudulent marketing scheme to prey on investors -- including by recruiting teenagers, promising them success as "The Trumps of Tomorrow."
The lawsuit alleges that in exchange for "secret" payments, Trump and three of his adult children used his former reality TV show "The Celebrity Apprentice" and other promotional events as vehicles to boost ACN Opportunity, a telecommunications marketing company linked to a nonprofit that used Trump's brand to appeal to teens.
After Trump joined the board of the nonprofit in 2009, the lawsuit alleges, it distributed an edition of its magazine, "Success from Home," that contained an article titled "The Trumps of Tomorrow," announcing his involvement and featuring an interview with him. Included in the magazine was an image of four teenagers, as well as references to Trump's children, "who all now work with the Trump dynasty."
"I think children learn by example," Trump was quoted as saying in the article, according to the lawsuit. "I'm happy to lend my support to charitable organizations like the SUCCESS Foundation that make a difference on the next generation of leaders."
Trump's association with the nonprofit "lent a gloss of legitimacy to ACN's efforts to reach a new generation of potential recruits," according to the lawsuit, which also notes that information about the board "disappeared" from the group's website around May 2016.
The lawsuit, brought initially in October on behalf of four anonymous individuals, accuses the Trumps of pocketing millions in payments between 2005 and 2015 to promote what they described as promising business opportunities: ACN Opportunity; 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.' "
The suit is being funded by the nonprofit Tesseract Research Center, which has ties to Democratic candidates, 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.
An attorney for Trump and his three eldest children didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.
The defendants have filed a motion to dismiss the original complaint, saying in court papers: "While the Complaint purports to allege malfeasance by various Trump entities, it seeks relief for a single class of putative victims -- those who paid money to a business Mr. Trump does not own, has never owned, and over whose operations he has never exercised control."
As with the original lawsuit, the amended complaint alleges that the Trumps profited off the poor, seeking "to enrich themselves by systematically defrauding economically marginalized people looking to invest in their educations, start their own small business, and pursue the American dream."
The suit claims that the Trumps, in fact, "deliberately misled" consumers about the likely success of their investments.
The lawsuit, which runs 186 pages in its amended form, 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.