Donald Trump's Former Modeling Agency Was Less Than Glamorous Behind The Scenes

Before becoming the 45th President of the United States, Donald Trump was famously known as a reality TV star thanks to "The Apprentice," as well as a successful businessman with his hands in multiple pies, including real estate, hotel management, and modeling. Trump's first major investment in the modeling industry came in 1996 when he acquired the Miss Universe Organization, a parent organization of Miss USA and its teen pageant.

Three years later, in 1999, he started his own modeling agency. On the surface, Trump Model Management (TMM) was big, representing names like Paris Hilton and Kara Young. Unsurprisingly, like many other Trump investments, his modeling agency was shrouded in controversy and legal issues.

Some of the scandals revolved around the agency reportedly breaking immigration laws, which, in essence, defrauded the USA. In 2014, a Jamaican model, Alexia Palmer, sued TMM, claiming that she had been treated "like a slave" and received only $4,980 for 21 shoots spread across three years (via ABC News). She also alleged that TMM had fraudulently obtained a full-time work visa for her despite not meeting the criteria.

Many Trump Models were treated terribly

In addition to Alexia Palmer's payment disputes against Donald Trump and his modeling agency, other models came forward to reveal the shady business going on behind the scenes at TMM. Two Trump models interviewed by Business Insider told the publication that they were instructed to lie to immigration authorities about their professions. One of the models, who was 14 at the time, was reportedly forced to tell everyone that she was actually 15 in order to secure more modeling jobs.

The models also recalled terrible living conditions, including small bathrooms and bedrooms with bunk beds. In a different interview with Mother Jones, another model compared the space to "a sweatshop." Shockingly, despite the lack of luxurious hospitality often associated with models, the girls were also charged exuberantly and could barely make ends meet. "They book you a job with quite a lot of money when you first arrive so you [can] pay back your flight and advance on the apartment," one of the models said. In addition, each model had to pay $1600 for the shared living space, which was more expensive than independently renting a studio apartment would have been at the time. 

There was a mass exodus of Trump Models and staffers

In 2015, the transformation of Donald Trump from a businessman to a politician put his character in the spotlight. That year, he made racist remarks about Mexicans, which led to a nationwide backlash. This created a domino effect that eventually left Trump with no option but to sell Miss Universe that year. Unfortunately, Trump Model Management was also affected.

A former Trump Model manager, Gabriel Santos Rocha, gave some insight into the behind-the-scenes stigma that shrouded the agency in a 2017 interview with Refinery29. "The people who got the worst of it were the models; they'd arrive on set, and people would say, 'Oooh, you're from Trump [Models]? How dare you,' or 'Why are you still with them?'" Rocha recalled. 

The controversy surrounding the agency caused many staff memebers and models to jump ship, including Mia Kang and Maggie Rizer. Rizer was one of the first to terminate her relationship with the agency on November 6, 2016, days before the U.S. presidential elections. She shared the news on Instagram, stating, "As a woman, a mother, an American, and a human being, I cannot wake up Wednesday morning being the least bit related to the Trump brand, win or lose." In April 2017, Trump Models shut down permanently.