ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
In last night's Republican debate in Houston, Marco Rubio took many swings at the front-runner, Donald Trump, including this one.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
MARCO RUBIO: There are people that borrow $36,000 to go to Trump University, and they're suing him now - $36,000 to go to a university that's a fake school.
SIEGEL: That tape courtesy of CNN. The so-called fake school is the now-defunct Trump University, launched by Donald Trump in 2005. It offered seminars in real estate investing. And former students have sued, saying they were tricked into spending tens of thousands of dollars for what amounted to an infomercial. Trump has denied all wrongdoing and is contesting those claims. Michael Isikoff has written about that lawsuit for Yahoo News, and he joins us now. Good to see you again.
MICHAEL ISIKOFF: Good to be here.
SIEGEL: And we have a short clip from a promotional video for Trump U. Let's listen.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
DONALD TRUMP: At Trump University, we teach success. That's what it's all about - success. It's going to happen to you.
SIEGEL: It's going to happen to you. Give us a quick summary of just what Donald Trump is being accused of in court.
ISIKOFF: Well, he's being accused of running a sham, a financial fraud. Basically, the former students who are suing claim they plunked down a chunk of change, in some cases maxing out their credit card to the tune of $36,000, to attend these seminars and then receive mentoring by Donald Trump's hand-picked real estate experts, who would help them make a killing in the real estate market.
SIEGEL: Hand-picked experts was a phrase in the promotional literature.
ISIKOFF: Exactly. Many of the accusations revolve around the fact that these supposed experts had little expertise in real estate, had little do with Donald Trump and, in fact, offered advice that was either perfunctory or, in some cases, just didn't happen.
SIEGEL: Was Donald Trump involved directly in Trump University?
ISIKOFF: Absolutely. He spoke at these seminars. There were huge portraits of him. He promoted the school heavily. And according to accusations, actually, in another lawsuit brought by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, he actually pocketed something like $5 million in profits from the school. So this was very much a part of Donald Trump enterprises.
SIEGEL: Now, we should clarify, this was called Trump University. It was not an accredited university. It wasn't a degree-granting institution.
ISIKOFF: He actually had to change the name because he was found in violation of state laws in New York and elsewhere by advertising it as a University when it really didn't meet any of the criteria for an educational institution. It was changed to Trump Entrepreneurial Initiative.
SIEGEL: Well, what's the possibility that either in the case brought by the students or the civil action by the New York state attorney general that Donald Trump, either as a Republican front-runner candidate or, conceivably, president of the United States, might be hauled into court to testify in any of these suits?
ISIKOFF: Well, it's remarkable, but he is actually listed as a witness for an upcoming trial in one of these cases in San Diego. There's a pretrial conference scheduled for May 6. No trial date has been set, but the judge has made it clear he wants to move this case along. It's been lingering in his court for more than five years now. And there's full expectation that this case is going to go to trial in either late spring or this summer, which would obviously be an awkward time for somebody who's hoping to be the Republican nominee for president.
SIEGEL: Mike Isikoff, thanks for talking with us.
ISIKOFF: Thank you.
SIEGEL: Michael Isikoff is chief investigative correspondent for Yahoo News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.