Owens served as the deputy director of Texas’ Consumer Protection Division under Abbott when he was the state attorney general. After the Associated Press reported Thursday that an investigation into Trump U a few years back was “quietly dropped” under Abbott and that three years later Trump donated to Abbott’s gubernatorial campaign, Owens spoke about how he remembered the office handling the case.
What started as a Facebook comment on Thursday became by the end of the day Friday a cease and desist letter from the Texas Attorney General’s office warning his disclosures violated the law.
In Owens’ retelling, Abbott dropped the investigation for political reasons, and if it was any business other than Trump’s, legal action would have been taken. (Abbott’s office is denying the claims).
As internal AG documents posted by the Dallas Morning News reveal, the Houston division of the Consumer Protection Division sought to investigate Trump U in October 2009, a request that was approved by deputy attorney general for civil litigation David Morales, according to Owens.
“It didn’t take much to open an investigation. I don’t think anybody really thought much about it,” Owens said. “We go in. Get an injunction. Sometimes we freeze their assets. We fight for Texas consumers. Get their money back.”
The investigation found the university was advertising “free” seminars that falsely promised credits for continuing education credits in Texas real estate. The programs were never officially credentialed by the state real estate commission, the docs said, and the seminars were actually just used to convince potential customers to pay for more programming.
By May 2010, the division was ready to move forward with legal action. On May 6, it filed a request to ready a legal complaint against Trump personally as well as Trump University, and on May 11, it outlined the settlement it would propose to Trump’s lawyers.
“We wanted to have a settlement conference on May 19, where we handed them the petition, we handed them our demands, we sat down with the lawyers, and we were going to say, ‘Give us X-million dollars or we are going to file this lawsuit, we’re going to see you in court,’” Owens said. “And we were denied that opportunity.”
The internal AG documents allege Trump U had engaged in “false, misleading and deceptive practices in promoting and selling their real estate ventures in Texas.” It had suggested a $3.75 million settlement, which included recouping the $2.6 million Texas consumers had allegedly been defrauded. Owens said a meeting had even been scheduled with Trump’s lawyers for May 19, but, as he remembers it, they had asked for a little more time to prepare.
But, as his team was looking into rescheduling, they were told there would be no meeting after all.
“And then we got the word, don’t reschedule anything, the case is over. Drop it. Close it. We’re not going to sue Trump University,” Owens said. “The Houston lawyers told me that they’re not going to go after Trump because it’s Donald Trump, so I took from that that he’s being treated differently because he is Donald Trump and that’s a political decision and it was made at the highest levels of the AG’s office.”
Owen’s account was picked up by the Dallas Morning News and the Houston Chronicle after a comment he wrote on Facebook in response to a story about Trump’s connections to Mike and Irene Milin, who operated various get-quick-rich schemes. One of their operations, Information Seminars International, was sued by the Texas AG’s office in 1993 for deceptive trade practices. . .