There was a time, nearly a decade ago, when Charles Jacobson believed in Donald Trump.
That was before Jacobson spent $26,000 on a “Trump University” real estate course he says was nothing more than a scheme to make money off ordinary people hoping for tips from the celebrity mogul. That was before the bankruptcy and before a horrific medical diagnosis.
Now, Jacobson says the sound of Trump’s voice makes him “nauseous.”
Jacobson said he’s worried his story and the story of others who say they were victimized by Trump is emerging too late to stop him from becoming the Republican Party’s nominee and, eventually, president.
“Something should have been said or written long ago, when the election started,” said Jacobson, who lives in an assisted living facility in Boynton Beach. “Now, I fear it’s too late.”
Jacobson has told some of his story before. He was quoted by The Tampa Bay Times in 2013 after he asked Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi to join a class action suit against Trump.
In an email to The Palm Beach Post, Bondi’s office says its Citizens Services Office or its Consumer Protection Division or both reviewed three complaints from Floridians about Trump University, which is now the subject of lawsuits in New York and California. The office said Jacobson’s complaint was received on May 26, 2011, and the others on Sept. 24, 2013 and March 31, 2014.
“The May 26, 2011 complaint was the first this administration received, and since the New York litigation was filed on behalf of consumers nationwide, it was rightfully determined this complaint would be addressed by the New York litigation,” wrote Whitney Ray, Bondi’s director of media relations.
In October 2013, The Times reported that a foundation connected to Trump made a $25,000 contribution to a political committee associated with Bondi. Ray said the contribution did not play a role in the determination not to take independent action against Trump University.
With Trump now the GOP front-runner in the race for his party’s presidential nomination, Jacobson’s story takes on added weight. It feeds into a line of attack Trump’s opponents have used in recent weeks in an attempt to derail his candidacy.
Republican opponents, most notably Florida U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, have called Trump a fraud, a con artist. Trump University came up during Thursday’s debate and has been fodder for new television ads.
During the debate, Trump said those who took the course gave it high ratings, a point disputed by debate moderator Megyn Kelly, who noted that the Better Business Bureau gave the course a D minus rating.
“It was elevated to an A,” Trump shot back, noting that he could settle the cases but hasn’t because he hasn’t misled anyone.
“I don’t settle cases very easily when I’m right,” he said.
The heated debate isn’t one Jacobson, 65, is paying much attention to these days.
Jacobson said he’s trying to get by on a small pension, worker’s compensation and Medicaid.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way.
For nearly 20 years, Jacobson owned a wine and liquor store in Elmont, N.Y., a bedroom community near Long Island. For eight years after that, Jacobson managed another store. But in 2003 he injured his knee loading champagne cases.
Unable to work, Jacobson said he moved to Florida, living first in Fort Lauderdale and then Delray Beach.
Around 2007 or 2008 — Jacobson said he can’t remember precisely which year — Jacobson heard about a course he hoped could dramatically improve his financial fortunes.
It was offered at a West Palm Beach hotel, though Jacobson said he can’t remember which hotel.
Jacobson said a friend warned him not to get involved, but Trump’s imprimatur was too alluring.
“When one of the wealthiest men in the world says you’re going to make it, that says something,” Jacobson said.
Jacobson said he wasn’t alone in taking the course.
“There were over 100 people there,” he said.
At one point, an instructor asked if anyone was interested in more detailed coaching, which would include a “mentor” who would help students look for real estate opportunities.
“I’d say 25 people put up the money,” Jacobson said.
The course and the mentor cost $26,000. Jacobson said he didn’t have that much in cash. So, he paid for the course with his American Express card, a move he would later regret.
Jacobson said a mentor did accompany him on trips around the area, where they looked at various property listings.
“He went around with me for two weeks,” Jacobson said. “He was showing me the ropes. He was working for Donald Trump. We would go around looking for real estate to buy.”
The plan, as Jacobson remembers it, was to somehow buy real estate without cash, sell it quickly and pocket profits.
The plan, though, didn’t work.
“Nothing came of it,” Jacobson said. “He defrauded us all.”
Jill Martin, an attorney for Trump, disputed Jacobson’s contention that the course was a scam.
“Trump University delivered valuable real estate teachings, as evidenced by the 98 percent of its students who rated its programs as excellent,” Martin wrote in an email to The Post. “Those students who applied the teachings found great success. As with all education, those who do not put in the time and effort will not achieve success.”
Martin then addressed Jacobson’s experience.
“He certainly was not misled, as evidenced by his own admissions after completing his education, including a hands-on mentorship, that he learned ‘everything’ and rated every aspect of the program as ‘excellent,’” Martin wrote. “Mr. Jacobson was not only satisfied, but even went so far as to indicate that he wanted to share his positive experience with Trump University in its monthly magazine.”
Martin’s email included a pair of evaluation forms she said Jacobson completed.
The handwriting on the forms, dated Oct. 1, 2009 and Oct. 5, 2009, are markedly different. Neither form was signed.
Reviewing the forms, Jacobson said he remembers completing a portion of the form dated Oct. 1, 2009, though he said the date is incorrect. He reported on the form that his overall experience was “excellent” and praised the work of his mentor, listed as someone named Chris Lombardo.
Jacobson said he did not put his name and date on the form, nor did he complete the portion of the form that asked for numerical ratings for various aspects of the course. A question asking if he’d like to “share your success story with Trump University” was left blank.
A second form, the one dated Oct. 5, 2009, asks different questions. In handwriting that is different from that of the previous form, the course gets glowing reviews, with more praise for Lombardo. Aspects of the course are again given the highest possible ratings, and, this time, the writer says “yes” when asked if he would like to share his success story with Trump University.
“This is not my handwriting,” Jacobson told The Post. “Not even close.”
Told Jacobson’s reaction to seeing the forms, Martin wrote: “Those are our records of his experience. His claims that he did not fill those out (or only partially did so) are nonsense. He clearly learned a lot. He is not credible.”
Jacobson said he does not remember if he ever tried to get his money back. He said he was not able to apply anything he learned from the course. Financial problems mounted.
“Try paying off $26,000 to American Express when you don’t have anything coming in,” Jacobson said.
Eventually, Jacobson declared bankruptcy. The money he shelled out for the Trump University course “was the main factor,” he said.
Six years ago, things got worse for Jacobson. Much, much worse.
He was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis — Lou Gehrig’s disease, an incurable condition that reduces muscle strength and size. ALS patients typically die three to four years after diagnosis, though in some rare cases patients can live longer than a decade.
Jacobson says he is “not doing terribly yet, but I’m going downhill. I know that.”
Even with the presidential campaign in full swing, Jacobson said he is trying not to pay much attention to it, largely because of Trump.
“I get nauseous when I see him on TV,” he said.
Still, Jacobson said he hears how Trump has performed in debates and has a gnawing fear that the nomination and then the presidency are within the mogul’s reach.
“He pulls the wool over people’s eyes,” Jacobson said. “He says a lot, but he won’t do anything.”