What Trump Knew About ‘Kardashian U’
The European School for Economics sold a get-rich-quick dream, aligning its brand with the Trump name—even as it ran into trouble with the law.
In 2012, the European School for Economics—a high-priced for-profit business school often operating at the edges of the law —held a star-studded gala at Cipriani’s in midtown Manhattan. Geraldo Rivera emceed the event and Donald Trump himself was honored, alongside Rick and Kathy Hilton, in celebration of their “Family Business Dynasties.” Reality show stars from “Million Dollar Listing” and the Real Housewives franchise walked the red carpet.
Trump, who also served as the keynote speaker for the event, was introduced by his children, Ivanka and Eric Trump, on what was an important night for the European School for Economics (ESE), operating from the 19th floor of Trump Tower. Although the school had held galas before, some of their previous honorees—Beyoncé, and President George H. W. Bush—didn’t bother showing up to receive their awards.
Still, the glitzy event had issues. Ticket sales and proceeds from a silent auction were supposed to go in part to a foundation that provided scholarships for ESE students, and to the Mayor’s Fund for Hurricane Sandy relief efforts. But as The Daily Beast previously reported, a list of donors to the Sandy fund—provided by the city—showed no record of a donation from the school. And the U.S. foundation that accepted funds for ESE student scholarships lost its tax-exempt charity status in 2011, a year before the event.
Then there was the problem with the bill. According to a lawsuit filed by Cipriani in 2014, ESE owed them some $37,000. (Michael Laufer, Cipriani’s attorney, told The Daily Beast that the case has since been “resolved.”)
The hiccups from 2012's event didn't seem to have an effect on ESE's next awards gala. Once again, Trump and his wife Melania were in attendance at the school’s 2014 "New York Ball," by which time ESE had moved the gala to Trump Tower. Photos from the event two years ago show a tuxedoed Trump arm-in-arm with the mother of all reality television and the night’s emcee, Kris Jenner of Keeping Up with the Kardashians fame.
While a Kardashian may be impressive, perhaps no celebrity contact is more attractive these days than Legacy’s landlord, now-presidential hopeful Donald Trump. For years, the business school—called the “School for Gods” by its founders—has used the Trump name to position itself as the most luxurious choice in higher education, and until now, it’s been a relationship that Trump seems to have been happy to reciprocate. ESE uses photos of Trump and his family in its marketing brochures, and lists him as one of the corporate leaders, who are “constant guests” at meetings and seminars. Former students also say the school placed them in internships with Trump’s businesses—and one ESE grad even now serves as Donald Trump Jr.’s personal assistant.
For his part, Trump—who may be completely unaware of ESE’s troubled history or the administrators’ proneness to use the Trump brand to market their operation—has praised the institution as “a great school, great students and, honestly, most importantly, a great, great tenant!’”
But as The Daily Beast recently reported, ESE has been sued a dozen times in the U.S. alone for failing to make good on debts, including its rent—and the New York State Education Department tried and failed for years to stop the school from illegally operating in the state. Abroad, the school has faced a slew of lawsuits from former teachers and in 2014 lost its degree-granting partnership with Britain’s University of Buckingham.
Neither Jenner nor Legacy Business school nor representatives for ESE provided comment on the ESE’s troubled past.
Meanwhile, Jenner is now Chairman of the Board for Legacy Business School—ESE’s new moniker, or so claims the New York State Board of Education, which told The Daily Beast the school had applied to change its name this year. While Legacy professes to be an entirely different institution from ESE, the two schools share a phone number and address—and Legacy is run by the same CEO, Alessandro Nomellini.
Prices for its certificates run up to $105,360 per year. Unlike the ESE, which granted British Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in partnership with the UK’s University of Buckingham until 2014, Legacy will only offer certificates. Starting this fall, classes will be held in Trump Tower.
It’s clear that Legacy students will be paying handsomely for the Jenner and Trump Tower brands.
To hear Jenner talk, that’s just the price of going after your wildest dreams. At the ESE’s 2014 gala—which honored a new batch of celebrities with awards, including Franca Sozzani, editor in chief of Italian Vogue, and fashion model Coco Rocha—Jenner reportedly gushed, “As you know, I’m a mom and a manager to my six amazing kids, and one of the things I’ve taught them from a very early age is to dream big and work hard.” And recently, in a promotional video for Legacy Business School’s website, Jenner goes on about “ambition” and “passion” before purring, “The future is waiting. What’s your legacy?”
The European School of Economics’ penchant to attach itself to glittering names goes back to at least 2006, when the school announced plans to rename its branch in New York after aviation magnate Gordon Bethune and open campuses in Houston and Los Angeles. The Gordon Bethune School of Business never came to pass—”It just never took off,” Bethune’s office told The Daily Beast—but the Houston gala celebrating the launch honored Beyoncé, President George H. W. Bush, and Bethune, who was the only honoree to actually attend.
When the ESE later pivoted its name to the International School of New York—another intended iteration announced in press releases and school websites but which never came to pass (classes start on October 12, 2015, the website still claims)—Jonathan Cheban, a quasi-celebrity best known for being friends with Kim Kardashian, announced he would be acting as “Dean of Pop Culture” for the institution.
“Wealthy kids from all over the world will learn things about private aviation, social media, quality of diamonds, types of caviar, mixed in with economics and other fundamental undergrad and grad classes,” he told New You Magazine in February of this year.
The school’s relationship with Trump seems to have begun around 2011, when ESE moved into Trump Tower on New York’s 5th Avenue after being evicted from the Empire State building for failing to pay rent. By 2014, the school’s gala was taking place in the building.
According to the 2014 New York Ball’s archived website, tickets for the event ran from $1,500 to $7,500. Tables could be purchased for donations from $15,000 to $100,000.
“This is a glamourous event, and it’s great for charity, and it’s a very easy commute for me,” Trump told The Daily.
Still, ESE was banking on more than just Trump’s appearance at parties to promote its business school.
Along with its paper brochures, ESE’s Facebook page is littered with a dozen photos of Trump and Trump Tower. In one post, the school calls the building the “#1 Wonder of New York.” Posts worshipping the tower grew so frequent, in fact, one 2014 MBA graduate commented on its page, “Once again, what has the Trump Tower to do with the students?”
The school also posted Donald Trump’s presidential bid announcement on its Facebook page.
And according to two former students interviewed by The Daily Beast, and promotional videos produced by ESE, the school also provided the Trump organization with interns. One former student said “a lot” of students interned at the Trump Organization.
Lindsay Santoro, who earned an MBA from ESE in International Finance in 2016, explained in a promotional video for the school that she asked to be placed in an internship outside of her finance background.
“I want business, I want real estate, I want everything,” she said. “ESE were able to open the opportunity for me come to the Trump organization.”
After her four-month internship, she says she was employed by the Trump organization. Santoro lists her current occupation as Assistant to Donald J. Trump Jr on her LinkedIn page. She is also listed on the event committee for the Eric Trump Foundation, which is headed by Trump’s younger son.
The pipeline seems to go both ways. At least one Trump employee is a student at ESE. In between shifts manning the elevator at Trump Tower, Johnny Gonzalez, 27, is studying accounting upstairs at ESE.
“They are just a tenant in the building. We have nothing to do with the company or their business,” Alan Garten, Executive Vice President and General Counsel for the Trump Organization, told The Daily Beast when asked about Trump’s connection to ESE and its students.
As for whether the Trump organization regularly brought on ESE interns, Garten said “I’m not aware of any.”
Of course, Trump is no stranger to controversial colleges. The legality of Trump University, the mogul’s real estate seminar business that hopeful investors across the country say scammed them out of millions of dollars, is currently being contested in U.S. courts.
Like his ESE tenant, Trump was sent letters from the NYSED, warning him to stop attaching the term “university” to his name without seeking licensure from the state, according to the one of the lawsuits.
In addition to a civil lawsuit in California, Trump faces fraud charges in New York, where Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has brought a class action lawsuit for $40 million, the amount Schneiderman says he bilked from naive students paying as much as as $35,000 hoping to get rich like The Apprentice star.
What they got, the lawsuits allege, were sales pitches disguised as seminars, and photo opportunities with a cardboard cutout of Trump, instead of the promised mentoring.
It seems that students at The European School of Economics got a better deal, and a lot closer to Trump than students at the real estate tycoon’s own “university.”
“I only saw [Trump] at the gala and he was talking and was funny,” former ESE student Daria Kurnygina told The Daily Beast.
It remains to be seen what celebrity contacts Kris Jenner will win for her new school or if Trump will remain among them. When an interviewer asked her whether any of the Kardashian clan might come on as guest lecturers, Jenner hinted at just what $100,000 in tuition a year might buy.
“Yes, absolutely!” Jenner said. “Kylie in particular really wants to come to Dubai, so you better enrol now so you can get a place [laughs].”
Coming Tomorrow: How The ‘School For Gods’ Seduced America