While the President of the United States seems to be able to shock with each new tweet, and no depth seems too low for him to sink to, we've yet to hear from someone who was at the heart of one of his signature outragesTrump University, the infamous and elaborate scheme to con hundreds of earnest citizens out of their hard-earned dollars.
Stephen Gilpin is a real estate guy. His forte is buying distressed properties and flipping them; he's done a lot of that, in his day, in Florida and elsewhere. In the go-go world of the 1990s, he came to New York City from Pittston, PA., with nothing other than his looks, and after a brief and successful stint as a male model, managed to work his way into the thick of the brutal world of New York real estate. This was where the real money was, he correctly reasonedwhere he'd meet men and women possessed of character, energyand lots of cash.
But this is not a "Wolf of Wall Street" story. Gilpin quickly became an expert in leveraging properties, and he saw this as a way to rescue declining neighborhoodsand and get rich in the process. He wanted to share his knowledge with others, and when he was asked to join Trump University's Trump Entrepreneur Initiative as a "Master Real Estate Coach," to teach in the shadow of a man whom he then greatly admired, he jumped at the chance. Little did he know that he would become an unwilling participant in one of the largest con games in American history.
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I was never a target of any lawsuit or criminal complaint. But at that moment, with the subpoena from the State of New York in my hand, what Schick and others in the Trump Organization told me was very convincing. They said that I couldn’t go against Trump. They said I would get crushed. They said that if I stuck with Trump, he would back me and make sure I was clear of all liability. They always made it sound like the employees would be in trouble. If we were on our own, we would not have Donald Trump to back us, and we would get in big legal trouble and would have to pay legal fees for years and years to come.
They insisted that we should use their lawyers. And why not? They were good lawyers and Donald Trump would pay them.
I still had a choice to make. I considered becoming a witness for the state, but the New York Attorney General’s office played rough with me. They scared the shit out of me and attacked me when they could have persuaded me. They made going with Trump an easy decision. Perhaps Schick was right. In my mind, it was just possible that I might be a target, too.
I decided to cast my fate with my old bosses at Trump University and work with Avi Schick. He said, “Good. You’ve made the right choice. We’ll start work tonight. Be at my office at eight-thirty.”
As I walked to Avi Schick’s office for my first prep session, I thought to myself, how did I get here? It seemed bizarre and frightening. Just a day earlier, I thought the Trump University nightmare was behind me and my life was now going to be smooth sailing. But instead I was fighting for my lifeagain.
I hoped that my own wits and capacity for survival would get me through the ordeal. I also believed I had the truth on my side. I should have known better: in the Trump Organization “truth” was a relative concept, subject to revision on a whim. Even so, I believed that the truth would have more authority in court. But how did I get here? What had been the long and winding path to this moment?