The day after Donald Trump announced his candidacy last June, an unexpected press release bearing his name was sent out to the media.
It was from an escort agency, boasting about a redesigned website which would now provide ratings for its "fresh, captivating, educated women of beauty and charm" -- ratings anywhere from four to six stars. With offices in the United States, Australia and Europe, this was a global organization, as its name made clear. The press release was from Trump International Escorts, an enterprise that promised "an experience to trump all others."
We know that Donald Trump has his hands in a lot of different industries. His recently released personal financial disclosure details scores of real estate investments and nearly as many branding ones. His name helps sell shirts, rounds of golf, teddy bears, baseball caps, water, wines, apartments and home goods. But the company of a beautiful woman?
Critics of Trump have passed around suggestions that he ran an escort service with and without caveats. A blogger at the conservative site RedState, which has broadly opposed Trump's candidacy, dug into the question without fully answering it. Every so often a screenshot of the site is passed around social media as an indictment of the businessman. That's how it came to our attention, and we figured it was a mystery worth solving.
At the time Trump launched his campaign, the website TrumpEscorts.com described a four-person staff spread across three continents. There was Claire, manager of the Europe office, Andi, in charge of the U.S. and Canada, and Meg, who dealt with Australia. The owner of the company was not named Donald, but instead "Charlie." "The three office managers are jokingly referred to as 'Charlie's Angels'. ;-)," the website noted. At the top of the page, the name TRUMP in capital, serif letters, much like the sign on the outside of Trump's property in Chicago which prompted an uproar two years ago.
But that domain is the first sign that Trump Escorts isn't connected to Trump. It was first registered nearly a decade ago, in October 2007, to a company called Bestcom International, based in Sydney, Australia. It was renewed a number of times to that same location until 2014, when the registration information was hidden with a domain proxy service.
At some point, Trump Escorts was added to a slew of online review sites: Yelp (including a location in Seattle), Yahoo and a site called "Happy Escorts," which is not safe for work.
At SiteJabber, which allows users to review online businesses, there are a few (not entirely serious) comments about the company's services -- and some contact information. It lists the same phone number as the one on TrumpEscorts.com, which forwards to an overseas mailbox from which we never received a reply. It also identifies the address of the company in New York: 180 Riverside Drive. And that, as it turns out, is a strong indication that the site has nothing to do with Donald Trump.
There are a string of buildings along the West Side Highway in Manhattan facing the Hudson River, each bearing the name "Trump Place." The buildings run from 140 to 220 Riverside Boulevard, one after the next, with 180 Riverside Boulevard about in the middle.
But Riverside Drive and Riverside Boulevard are not the same address. They're different streets about a mile away from one another. Only one -- the one not identified as the home of Trump Escorts -- bears the name Trump, but it's not a Trump building. It's an apartment building that was actually built by Trump but later sold. It's just a building that has the name "Trump" attached -- the sort of thing that a random person in, say, Australia, might have seized upon in an attempt to make TrumpEscorts.com look more like a Trump property.
Alan Garten, general counsel at The Trump Organization, confirmed as much when we reached him by email on Thursday. "Mr. Trump has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with this," he wrote. "Period."
If you go to the site now (which you should not do at work), you'll notice that the domain and company names have been changed. It's now "Mystique Companions," though the three employees are still Claire, Meg and Andi -- Charlie's angels. The switch from Trump Escorts appears to have happened in late October or early November, and Garten confirmed that it was because the Trump Organization demanded it.
"Last year, someone brought this to our attention," Garten wrote. "In response, we sent a letter demanding they cease and desist from using his name and they did. As a company we zealously protect Mr. Trump's valuable name, brand and trademarks. Unfortunately, as the brand has grown in popularity around the world, there are more and more people who have tried to trade off his name."
There's no question that this is precisely what the owners of Mystique Companions were trying to do by sending out their press release at a moment when Donald Trump was first dominating headlines. Despite the name change, "Trump Escorts" still has crumbs in parts of the internet, like at those review sites and, oddly, in a Quora question about what to expect from hiring an escort. But the company and that name have nothing to do with Donald Trump.
Or we can put it another way: If you love the Trump brand and want a little action, you’re going to need to stop by one of his casinos.