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The Trump University origin story

From Ars Technica a few weeks ago, before the whole Trump University thing really blew up:

In 2005, both of us became fixated on a late-night infomercial that promised access to “hundreds of billions of dollars” in “free government money.” As journalism grad students at the time, our evenings often ended with a couple beers as we decompressed by watching whatever was on our tiny 13″ TV. And what was on at the time—repeatedly—was a half-hour advertisement for an outfit called “National Grants Conferences” (NGC).

Why did the NGC infomercial captivate us? It wasn’t the charisma of the commercial’s star, ex-football player and former Congressman J.C. Watts (R-Okla.), who was busy making a mockery of whatever credibility he once had. And it wasn’t the enthusiastic couple who founded NGC, Mike and Irene Milin, proclaiming that numerous government grants were there for the taking.

No, we couldn’t stop watching because NGC just felt so sleazy. Even in comparison with other get-rich-quick schemes competing for time in the twilight TV hours—the obnoxious guy with the question marks all over his suit, the insufferable smile factories bragging about their real estate conquests from tropical locales—this one seemed suspect.

Though neither of us were rich, we were both confident about one thing: real secrets to the easy life weren’t generally shared through free seminars given at local hotels. So how could a business like NGC persist, even thrive?

To find out, one Saturday afternoon we biked to a nondescript hotel near the Oakland airport for an NGC presentation. We sat among hundreds of other people packed into the ballroom as a speaker confirmed what the infomercial had promised: serious sums of government money could be ours. At the end of the session, dozens of attendees lined up to buy $999 NGC “memberships,” receiving two thick books full of government programs and the promise of ongoing coaching and support.

Intrigued, we spent the better part of a year researching NGC, its claims, and its founders’ pasts. We ultimately found that NGC—with several seminar teams circling the country and clearing tens of millions of dollars each year in sales—and its memberships produced no money for any of the customers we interviewed.

Arriving at that conclusion was no great surprise. Nor was it surprising that the NGC money train would continue running well after we wrote a piece about it, which was published on the front page of The Sacramento Bee on July 5, 2006. What was remarkable—and what still feels surreal more than a decade later—is what happened near the end of our reporting.

Donald Trump waltzed into our story.

Go read the rest, it’s well worth your time. This outfit was sued not once but twice by the state of Texas for being sleazeball scam artists. They’re also who Donald Trump turned to in order to get his Trump University off the ground. And that’s hardly the worst thing we know about Donald Trump. who of course has been endorsed for President by Greg Abbott, Dan Patrick, Rick Perry, and many other Texas Republicans. What else is there to say? Link via TPM.

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