July 1, 2016

Plagiarized textbooks and false advertising at the Trump Institute



Free Money! Mike and Irene Milin in an infomercial for one of their series of get-rich-quick seminars. Image via YouTube.

Is it really any great surprise that one of the educational ventures that Donald Trump lent his name to in the early 2000’s seems to have plagiarized large portions of their course materials?

Yesterday the New York Times’s Jonathan Martin reported that the Trump Institute—a business that Trump endorsed but did not own in the early 2000’s—committed the “fundamental deceit” of providing people who enrolled in its seminars with course materials plagiarized from “an obscure real estate manual published a decade earlier.”

Not to be confused with Trump University, the now-defunct for-profit university owned by Trump that’s being sued by former students, the Trump Institute was entirely owned and operated by a couple, Irene and Mike Milin, who had been marketing “get-rich-quick” courses for decades. Trump had little involvement beyond giving his name to the venture. Still, Martin reports, the Institute “promised falsely that its teachers would be handpicked by Mr. Trump,” and Trump appeared in a 2005 infomercial “that promised customers access to his vast accumulated knowledge.”

The Times has all the nitty gritty details on the Trump Institute’s aggressive sales tactics and deceptive marketing, their sham seminars that people paid thousands of dollars to attend, and the slew of complaints from customers who believed they’d been scammed. It all culminates with the evidence that at least 20 pages of the instructional book the Institute provided to customers “were copied entirely or in large part” from another book published in 1995 by Success magazine—without attribution. The Times includes sample extracts showing how brazenly the text was borrowed.

And yet who’s really shocked? The details of Trump’s questionable business dealings keep emerging, and they all contribute to a picture of a man with his hands in the pots of schemes known for the lowest of low practices. As Martin puts it:

The exaggerated claims about his own role, the checkered pasts of the people with whom he went into business and the theft of intellectual property at the venture’s heart all illustrate the fiction underpinning so many of Mr. Trump’s licensing businesses: Putting his name on products and services—and collecting fees—was often where his actual involvement began and ended.

The plagiarism is, of course, the very least of it.



Kait Howard was a publicist at Melville House.