FEBRUARY 1, 2019
NEW YORK – Donald Trump’s three eldest children were deeply involved in their father’s alleged scheme to rip off tens of thousands of Americans with bogus marketing opportunities in the years before he was elected president, according to a revised lawsuit by four would-be entrepreneurs.
The group, which sued in October, filed an amended complaint Thursday that expanded claims that Donald Trump Jr., Ivanka Trump and Eric Trump systematically defrauded people who paid hundreds of thousands of dollars each to work with a marketing firm they endorsed called ACN Inc. ACN allegedly promised business opportunities with little risk and was widely promoted on Donald Trump’s “Celebrity Apprentice” television show.
The Trump children did more than just lend their names to ACN, the amended lawsuit says. The siblings appeared repeatedly with ACN co-founders on their father’s TV show, as well as in photographs, social-media posts and other materials, according to the plaintiffs, who seek to remain anonymous to avoid a backlash from Trump.
From 2005 to at least 2015, the Trump family received millions of dollars in secret payments to promote ACN to people who hoped to get rich selling its products, according to the lawsuit. ACN’s flagship product was a “doomed” desktop video phone that could connect calls only between two ACN customers and was quickly eclipsed by services like Skype and the advent of smartphones.
The alleged scheme to boost ACN’s dubious value in the eyes of consumers was made possible by Trump’s rehabilitation of his image on “Celebrity Apprentice,” according to the suit. Trump’s children understood the power of the show’s success and used it to help a company that ripped off customers, the former ACN investors said in their complaint.
Alan Garten, the Trump Organization’s general counsel, didn’t immediately respond to a phone message and an email seeking comment. The family’s defense lawyer, Joanna Hendon, also didn’t return a call.
The Trumps have asked U.S. District Judge Lorna Schofield to dismiss the suit. At a Jan. 14 hearing, lawyers for the family claimed Trump had nothing to do with any alleged fraud. He provided celebrity endorsements to ACN from 2006 to 2015, but never owned or controlled the company, the lawyers said. And the plaintiffs haven’t identified a single fraudulent statement made by any of the other defendants, the family claims.
The revised suit attempts to address some of the judge’s questions from the hearing.
“Defendants concocted a further scheme to use the rehabilitated Trump brand, their national celebrity, and their platform, as well as their casual willingness to make false and misleading statements, to defraud consumers who were inspired by Trump’s apparent wealth and success,” the plaintiffs said in the amended lawsuit.
“In the eyes of the victims, defendants and ACN legitimized each other through their cross-branding in these appearances,” the suit says.
Ivanka Trump in particular weighed in on her understanding of the power of the Trump brand in promoting products on “The Apprentice,” the complaint says.
“In a world obsessed with branding and celebrity, our partners are very impressed to see this kind of validation of their decision to work with the Trump brand,” Ivanka Trump wrote in her book, according to the complaint. “They love the fanfare and the positive spillover to our joint efforts.”
In February 2015, ACN posted a photo album on Facebook with images of four ACN representatives in Trump’s private plane, as well as at a taping of the season finale of “The Celebrity Apprentice” and the after-party at Trump Tower, according to the suit.
The revised lawsuit also added specific recollections of the plaintiffs hearing Trump praise ACN when the company’s founder appeared on his hit show. “You have a great opportunity before you at ACN without any of the risk most entrepreneurs have to take,” one plaintiff recalled Trump saying, according to the suit.
Another plaintiff recalled hearing Trump say on-air in 2014 that ACN’s video-phone product “will literally revolutionize the way we communicate.”
“And trust me it’s changing everything,” Trump said, according to the revised complaint. “The absolute truth is that this technology will be present in every home within the next several years.”
The case is Doe v. The Trump Corp., 18-cv-09936, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).