In blunt testimony revealed on Tuesday, former managers of Trump University, the for-profit school started by Donald J. Trump, portray it as an unscrupulous business that relied on high-pressure sales tactics, employed unqualified instructors, made deceptive claims and exploited vulnerable students willing to pay tens of thousands for Mr. Trump’s insights.
One sales manager for Trump University, Ronald Schnackenberg, recounted how he was reprimanded for not pushing a financially struggling couple hard enough to sign up for a $35,000 real estate class, despite his conclusion that it would endanger their economic future. He watched with disgust, he said, as a fellow Trump University salesman persuaded the couple to purchase the class anyway.
“I believe that Trump University was a fraudulent scheme,” Mr. Schnackenberg wrote in his testimony, “and that it preyed upon the elderly and uneducated to separate them from their money.”
For Mr. Trump, whose presidential campaign hinges on his reputation as a businessman, the newly unsealed documents offer an unflattering snapshot of his career since branching out, over the past decade, from building skyscrapers into endeavors that cashed in on his name to sell everything from water and steaks to ties and education.
The release of the documents on Tuesday, under court order, was the latest turn in a federal lawsuit, filed in California by dissatisfied former Trump University students, that has bedeviled the businessman since 2010 and could trail him into the White House if he is elected president.
Mr. Trump, who started the university in 2005, owned 93 percent of the now-defunct company. From the start, he acted as its chief promoter, rather than day-to-day manager, selling it as a tool of financial empowerment that would improve life for thousands of ordinary Americans. It would, he said, “teach you better than the best business school,” according to the transcript of a Web video.
Within the documents made public Tuesday were internal employee guides encouraging customers with little money to pay for the tuition with their credit cards. “We teach the technique of using OPM … Other People’s Money,” explained the internal instructions for salespeople. The documents pushed employees to exploit the emotions of potential customers. “Let them know you’ve found an answer to their problems,” read confidential instructions to salespeople.