Trump spins in foreclosure game

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Posing with the merchandise

Real estate developer Donald Trump stands with a poster showing off his new book written with Bill Zanker, president and founder of The Learning Annex. (AFP/Getty Images)

When I heard that President Bush wants to bail out homeowners caught up in the sub-prime mortgage mess, I figured I better move fast if I want to profit from other people's misfortune.

So I high-tailed it over to the Pasadena Hilton, where a seminar was held the other day by a representative of Trump University, Donald Trump's online institution of business education, founded in 2005. "We teach success," the venture's website declares.

An ad in this very newspaper showed a picture of The Donald and quoted him as saying, "Investors nationwide are making millions in foreclosures . . . and so can you!

"I'm going to give you 2 hours of access to one of my amazing instructors AND priceless information . . . all for FREE."

OK, I know what you're thinking. You're thinking there has to be a catch, such as the fact that the ad doesn't mention anywhere that the free two-hour seminar is only a "preview" of the three-day workshops that Trump offers for $1,495.

And you're thinking, "Hey, wait a minute. Isn't this the same Donald Trump whose businesses repeatedly have had to seek bankruptcy protection and whose primary claim to fame these days has been hosting 'The Apprentice' on TV?"

And if he's so smart, what's he doing giving away his real estate secrets instead of using that knowledge to make billions for himself?

Trump wouldn't be at the Pasadena seminar, but I reached the Big Man by phone and put that very question to him.

"I love teaching," he told me. "I love helping people."


I also asked whether he was guaranteeing people will make some serious money buying and selling distressed properties.

"You can never say that," Trump answered. "One of the things a person has to have is instinct. There are people who can't handle the pressure, who don't have the capacity."

One could argue that the kind of people who go to free seminars and then fork over $1,495 for a workshop perhaps aren't the type who naturally enjoy that instinct and capacity, but that's beside the point.

Trump said now's the time to plunge into the foreclosure market, which is booming thanks in no small part to the estimated 2 million people with sub-prime mortgages in danger of losing their homes.

"These are great times," he declared. "There are unbelievable opportunities for making money. There are very few buyers and lots of sellers. It's a great time to be a buyer."

And with that, Trump said he had to get off the phone because "a bunch of important people" had just entered his office and he had to make a deal.

So off I went to Pasadena, where I soon found myself in a hotel meeting room with about three dozen other wannabe real estate moguls. Before us was a banner featuring Trump's typically dour image. "Think big," it instructed.

"Trump is prestige," a participant named Van Patrick, 40, told me as we waited for the event to start. "People follow him, investment-wise."

Hock Chong, 42, echoed this sentiment. "Since he's had such good success, I want to learn his secrets," Chong said.

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