Wednesday, April 25, 2018
Politics

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi asked Trump for donation before deciding against fraud case

WASHINGTON — Florida's attorney general personally solicited a political contribution from Donald Trump around the same time her office deliberated joining an investigation of alleged fraud at Trump University and its affiliates.

The new disclosure from Attorney General Pam Bondi's spokesman to the Associated Press on Monday provides additional details around the unusual circumstances of Trump's $25,000 donation to Bondi. After the money came in, Bondi's office rejected suing Trump.

The money came from a Trump family foundation in apparent violation of rules surrounding political activities by charities. A political group backing Bondi's re-election, called And Justice for All, reported receiving the check Sept. 17, 2013 — four days after Bondi publicly announced she was considering joining a New York state inquiry into the activities of Trump University.

Marc Reichelderfer, a political consultant who worked for Bondi's re-election effort and fielded questions on the donation at her request, told the AP that Bondi spoke with Trump "several weeks" before her office publicly announced it was deliberating whether to join a multistate lawsuit proposed by New York's Democratic attorney general. Reichelderfer said Bondi was unaware of dozens of consumer complaints received by her office about Trump University filed before she requested the donation.

"The process took at least several weeks, from the time they spoke to the time they received the contribution," Reichelderfer told the AP.

The timing of Trump's donation is notable because the now-presumptive Republican presidential nominee has said he expected and received favors from politicians to whom he gave money.

"When I want something, I get it," Trump said at an Iowa rally in January. "When I call, they kiss my a- -. It's true."

A message left on Bondi's cellphone Monday by the Times/Herald was not returned.

In addition to the money given by his foundation, Donald Trump himself has donated $253,500 since 2002 in Florida, most of it going to Republican candidates, the state party or political committees affiliated with GOP officials. His daughter Ivanka Trump also gave a $500 check to Bondi a week before her father's money was reported as being received, as well as $25,000 to the Republican Party of Florida the next year.

The AP reviewed thousands of pages of records related to consumer complaints about Trump University and its affiliates filed with Bondi's office. The documents — previously obtained by the Orlando Sentinel, which first reported Trump's donation to Bondi — reveal a new reservoir of unhappy Trump University customers, despite recent claims from Trump that the students of his real estate seminar company were overwhelmingly satisfied.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and a federal class-action civil lawsuit in California allege that Trump University — which was largely owned by Trump himself — defrauded consumers by as much as $35,000 each with promises of a real estate investing education that they either did not receive or found to be worthless.

All told, more than 60 people requested help from the Florida attorney general in obtaining refunds from Trump University and affiliates. Many alleged that they paid money for training materials and personalized instruction that were never delivered.

"I was laid off work for the first time in my life and really need this money to support my family," wrote one of the many people seeking help, adding that he had been promised a refund but never received it. "$1,400 is so much money for my family."

The documents complicate claims by Bondi's office that she received only one consumer complaint about Trump University at the time that she decided not to join the New York investigation.

Bondi's office said that its statement about receiving only a single complaint was accurate at the time because most of the complaints dealt with the Trump Institute, a separate corporate entity from Trump University. The Trump Institute was licensed by Trump to run his seminars, however, with Trump keeping a share of the profits. In internal emails, Bondi's own staff appeared to lump Trump University and the Trump Institute together — as New York's lawsuit has done.

By choosing not to pursue Trump in court, Bondi left the unhappy students on their own to try to get refunds from the celebrity businessman.

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