In Downturn, Aspiring Moguls Turn to Trump U. for Wisdom

Trump University Instructor Steve Goff talks to students during a seminar.
Trump University Instructor Steve Goff talks to students during a seminar. (Sarah L. Voisin - Washington Post)
By Ian Shapira
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 26, 2009

Want the secret to making more money than you ever thought possible? . . . Put proven Donald Trump secrets to work for you . . . -- Trump University online advertisement

Tyrone Bryant, a 64-year-old D.C. real estate agent and retired Library of Congress police officer, is searching for new strategies while he negotiates with banks to lower his mortgage payments on two homes he is having trouble renting out.

Susan Laraby of Alexandria needs some extra cash because both of her jobs -- interpreter in the federal courts and real estate agent -- are drying up.

Drawn by the imprimatur of Donald Trump -- he of 40 Wall Street in Manhattan, the Miss USA pageant and NBC's "The Apprentice" -- about 500 Washingtonians this week attended one of 15 free sessions at hotels across the Washington area, in search of a playbook for capitalizing on a depressed real estate market. Lured by newspaper and online ads, some came out of personal need to escape financial gloom, others out of pure capitalist curiosity.

They worried hardly at all about whether it is still possible to get rich virtually overnight. If Americans are feeling chastened by the near-collapse of the financial system, there was little sign of that inside the Holiday Inn in Ballston, where a placard in the lobby read "Trump, Think BIG."

As the lunch crowd took their seats, the O'Jays' classic "For the Love of Money" boomed from speakers. Then the Trump University instructor, Stephen Goff, power-suited up, bellowed his introduction: "All right, you guys ready to be the next Trump real estate millionaire? Yes or No!?"

The class looked a little drowsy. "Oh, that was weak," he said. "Let's try that again . . . let's blow the roof off this building . . . You guys are the best in the world. So, you guys ready to be the next Trump real estate millionaire, YES OR NO?!"

"YES!" everyone yelled.

Goff laid out what would be taught: How to buy and sell "potentially millions of dollars worth of property" using no (or very little) personal money or credit. How to buy without a down payment or a bank loan. And then, tantalizingly, Goff said, how to "make money on properties you don't even own."

By the end of this year, about 100,000 people are expected to have attended Trump's free courses across the country, according to Michael Sexton, Trump University's president.

Alan Miranda, 40, of Alexandria, an independent distributor of stem cell enhancement pills, came because he said his parents in Florida spent too much on a second home and could use some advice. Adil Bagirov, 31, an energy consultant who grew up in the former Soviet Union, showed up because he wants to add to his wealth and feed the capitalist dreams he cultivated as a child frustrated with a communist government

"Find it, flip it, forget about it," Goff told his audience. "You don't have to own real estate; you just have to control it."

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