After more than a year of delays, a team of attorneys will travel to Los Angeles next month to review highly guarded, never-before-seen Celebrity Apprentice outtakes, looking for evidence that the Trump family knew they were scamming people into investing in a scam.
On Tuesday, a federal judge in New York City ordered Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer to make the footage available in a secure location, potentially putting an end to a long-running battle that is still kept under wraps.
MGM has refused to reveal what is on the tapes or why making it public could be so damaging. It’s unclear why the studio is fighting so hard to keep unaired footage from Trump’s old show hidden. In court filings last week, the Beverly Hills studio only described what was in the tapes in a document that was sealed from public view.
Lawyers for four disgruntled entrepreneurs know exactly what they’re looking for: any evidence that Donald Trump and his children knew they were duping potential investors by directing them to CAN, a multi-level marketing company based in North Carolina.
Trump and his children—Don Jr., Ivanka, and Eric—were the most prominent recurring characters on The Apprentice, serving as business judges. The family promoted CAN as a promising investment during the show, even having celebrities compete to create a commercial for the company’s supposedly high-tech new video chatting phone, the “Iris 5000.” In reality, the technology was a dud, and the company was in financial trouble—but viewers were not informed of this.
The lawsuit was filed in 2018 by four entrepreneurs who claim they were duped into joining CAN’s multi-level marketing scheme as a result of the Trump endorsements, and that they lost time and money as a result. Lynn Chadwick of Pennsylvania claims she was duped into joining the program in 2013, while Catherine McKoy and Millard Williams of California began in 2014. Markus Frazier of Maryland claims to have enrolled in 2016. None of them lasted past the second year.
Even if the footage is only outtakes from two episodes of Celebrity Apprentice that aired in the spring of 2011, reviewing it could take weeks. In those episodes, opposing teams led by rapper Lil John and television personality “NeNe” Leaks competed to create absurd commercials for CAN’s new video phone.
U.S. District Judge Lorna G. Schofield wrote in her order on Tuesday that attorneys for these entrepreneurs “shall review the requested footage onsite” and be able to copy relevant clips.
The case is planned for a jury trial, so if the legal battle goes that far, the public may be able to see the video as well.
The entrepreneurs’ private attorney, Roberta A. Kaplan, declined to comment on the case. MGM, CAN, and the Trump family’s attorneys did not respond to requests for comment.
The entrepreneurs sued the Trump Organization and the Trump family members who appeared on the NBC show—Donald, Don Jr., Ivanka, and Eric—claiming that they were presenting CAN as a good investment without disclosing that they were being paid millions of dollars to do so. The New York Times, citing Trump tax returns obtained by reporters there would later reveal that the multi-level marketing company had paid him $8.8 million over a period of 10 years.
“Trump repeatedly misrepresented CAN’s risk profile to consumers, falsely claiming that investing in CAN was a low-risk entrepreneurial venture,” the lawsuit states. “Trump repeatedly told his audiences that he endorsed CAN because he believed it offered a reasonable probability of commercial success. He touted CAN’s commercial prospects and his regard for its founders. And he failed to disclose that he was, in fact, being paid millions of dollars for his CAN endorsement.”
However, the legal battle inevitably included the entities in possession of the actual evidence: MGM and JMBP, which stands for J. Mark Burnett Productions. Burnett, the British producer behind The Apprentice and a longtime Trump supporter, has been appointed chairman of MGM’s Worldwide Television Group.