President-elect Donald Trump is nearing a multimillion dollar settlement of the New York and California fraud cases involving the now-defunct Trump University, according to media reports.
If confirmed, the move would represent a complete turnaround of Trump's position on the for-profit university, which closed in 2010. Before the election, Trump publicly vowed not to settle the matter and suggested he might even reopen the school.
The reports by Daily News and Reuters of a possible settlement come only days before a class action lawsuit over the university is scheduled to begin in California. Despite appeals from Trump's lawyers for a delay in the run-up to his inauguration, the judge in the case insisted the trial go ahead as scheduled and that Trump testify, although likely by videotape.
Last week, at a pretrial hearing in San Diego, Trump's lawyers said they were open to settlement. U.S. District Court Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who is hearing the case in California, brought up the possibility in court of another federal judge, Jeffrey Miller, assisting the parties in trying to find a way to settle the case before trial.
"I can tell you right now I'm all ears," Trump lawyer Daniel Petrocelli told Curiel.
Neither lawyers for Trump nor attorneys representing the students who brought the lawsuits immediately responded to calls for comment..
The lawsuits involve two class actions in California and a case brought by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who referred to Trump U. as a fraud.
In 2013, in a tweet, Trump ridiculed the move by the New York official, saying: "Why did failing A.G. Eric Schneiderman, after years of looking, file his pathetic lawsuit on a SATURDAY afternoon (unheard of)? No Case!"
The Daily News, quoting an unidentified source with knowledge of the situation, reported that under the proposed settlement Trump would not admit to any wrongdoing.
The paper said the deal, being negotiated by Trump's lawyers, Schneiderman and the law firm that brought a class action suit in California, would require Trump to pay between $20 million and $25 million.
The New York attorney general's fraud lawsuit described the "university" as nothing but a scam designed to fleece would-be real estate developers. The scheme, he charged, lured students with false promises into paying up to $35,000 to learn Trump's real estate investing "secrets" from his "hand-picked" instructors.
"More than 5,000 people across the country who paid Donald Trump $40 million to teach them his hard-sell tactics got a hard lesson in bait-and-switch," Schneiderman said in a statement at the time. "Mr. Trump used his celebrity status and personally appeared in commercials making false promises to convince people to spend tens of thousands of dollars they couldn't afford for lessons they never got.”
Schneiderman alleged the teachers were not personally selected by Trump, despite claims in the university's ads, and that the students did not ever meet the real estate mogul. The state earlier forced Trump University to quit referring to itself as a university because it was not licensed as such in New York.
Trump, who dismissed Schneiderman as a "lightweight," vigorously denied the fraud charges and claimed 98% of the people who signed up for the courses expressed satisfaction with them.