Shocking Celebrity Money-Making Schemes


While Sarah Ferguson may be the most recent celeb to get caught with her hand in the proverbial cookie jar, she’s not the first one to scam for a paycheck. What sets the Duchess of York apart from some other famous money-mongers is that she was actually trying to keep her scheme a secret. Too bad cameras were around to catch Fergie surreptitiously offer the British press some facetime with her ex-husband Prince Andrew for a price.

And, while MainStreet could wax poetic over whether or not simply being a celebrity counts as a swindle, we’ve tracked down some of the more concrete ways that the nation’s more popular citizens have cashed in.

Trump University

You would think that those “attending” Trump University, the online financial school started by Donald Trump in 2005, would understand that they weren’t receiving an actual education. What Dean Donald, after all, is teaching (or preaching) is “success” in the broadest, most intangible sense of the word. Of course, if you consider the institution’s mission statement you may, understandably, become confused.

“Some educational resources have great content. Some have a smart and eclectic community of members,” the Web site states. “Some offer educational experiences you can immediately apply to the real world and yield results. We combine all three: Smart content. A thriving community. A learn by doing approach.”

This vagueness, perhaps, is what keeps the online university in session. It’s currently being sued by several former students who claim the endeavor is nothing more than a fraudulent infomercial. Those suing the university say the school’s seminars were more like advertisement for the Web site’s premium membership and that its one-year branded “Apprentice Program” was really just a three-day event that involved trips to Home Depot.

While we have to question how anyone could pay the Donald $60,000 like plaintiff Tarla Makaeff did just to learn about real estate, the site definitely deceptive. Most Webinars aren’t listed with a price and the on-site seminars that are listed seem unnecessarily expensive (spending $1,300 to “kick start your success” is slightly counterintuitive).

Trump University president Michael Sexton told Gawker that the law suits were without merit and that Trump U plans to "vigorously defend our reputation, company, brand name, and the services we offer." We hope current students find that comforting.

Wyclef Jean's Yele Haiti

When recording artist Wyclef Jean started his charitable foundation Yele Haiti back in 2005, no one paid too much attention to how the organization’s donations were being used. But, when the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti endowed it with an influx of funds, media outlets took a look Yele Haiti’s tax returns. Turns out the organization, according to The Smoking Gun, paid Jean and his business partner at least $410,000 for rent, production services and appearances … at a benefit concert.

"Have we made mistakes? Yes," Jean said in a press conference that followed the Smoking Gun’s initial allegations. "Did I ever use Yele money for personal benefit? Absolutely not."

Jean didn’t go on to explain why a television production company in Haiti received the majority of the foundations funding prior to the earthquake. Perhaps that’s why his latest philanthropic effort was to suggest that Brangelina adopt a Haitian baby.

Income with Danny Bonaduce:

Perhaps Danny Bonaduce should have called his now-defunct 2008 money-making endorsement on “Make Danny Bonaduce More Money,” because clearly that’s what the former child star had in mind when he endorsed the Web-based program that promises to teach users (for a price) how to earn extra income from their home.  

Back then, Danny had his own extension of the site,, where he taught people how to earn up $7,900 a month working full time from their house. Now, if you click on the link, you’ll still have the opportunity to earn some big bucks, you just won’t be doing it with (or, more appropriately) for Danny Bonaduce.  

Sean Hannity's Freedom Concerts

After reviewing tax returns for talk show host Sean Hannity’s charitable organization Freedom Alliance, conservative blogger Debbie Schlussel cried foul. According to her, the charity, which holds “Freedom Concerts” across America to pay for the college education of fallen soldiers’ children and medical care for wounded veterans, was donating less than 20% of its contributions.

Schlussel also alleged that money was being squandered, not only on personal affairs or assets, but on bad investment choices and unnecessary spending. (She wondered why, for example, the Freedom Alliance spent $3 million on postage, shipping and printing.)

Hannity released a statement with their version of the number crunching and said they “were proud of our work and numerous accomplishments.” These sentiments may have been more sympathetic if Schlussel wasn’t in possession of their financial records and similar allegations hadn’t been made before.  

Cash Call With Gary Coleman

Cash Call’s 2007 advertisements peddling immediate and full cash loans seemed too good to be true, evening come from Gary Coleman,  who passed away recently. Anyone misguided enough to sidestep these the very obvious warning signs went on to learn, of course, that while Cash Call would give you money right away, they would do so at a 99.25% interest rate. (We wonder how much of that actually went to Coleman.) As if that weren’t bad enough, the company would also charge borrowers a $75 lending fee.

By the time Cash Call got into hot water with the state of California for using loan shark tactics to collect the unpaid debt incurred by their borrowers, Coleman was no longer their spokesperson.

Britney Spears Facebook Credits

Fans of social media may argue that selling virtual gifts via a celeb’s Facebook page is akin to selling actual merchandise in a store. Regardless, we think that spending $2 to send your friend a digital Britney Spears-branded birthday message qualifies as a rip-off.

Back in August 2009, the singer became the first celeb, according to Mashable, to hawk “virtual gifts specific to their likeness” on a social network. Her branded birthday cake, school girl uniform and “signed” photos cost $2-$20 a pop, depending on what credit package fans were purchasing.

Couldn’t she have stuck to making perfumes?   

Tila Tequila's Jayden's Angels

Let’s call this a scam in waiting since no one, including Tila Tequila herself, seems to know if the reality TV star’s charity actually exists. Actually, scratch that, because, according to the IRS database of registered non-profit organizations, Jayden’s Angels, a charity that Tequila alleges she started in December 2009 to buy school supplies for the less fortunate, doesn’t.  

That would be the end of it, it seems, if Tequila wasn’t constantly trying to elicit donations to be sent to her home address for her organization on Twitter and Facebook. No word on whether or not she has succeeded in collecting any scratch.   

The Restoration of Stephen Baldwin

OK, so we can’t blame Stephen Baldwin for this money-making scheme, since, technically, the Web site (formerly known as was started by fans. Still, this movement is illiciting donations from the public to restore the actor’s monetary losses. They believe that the public’s mockery of  Baldwin’s faith is what led to his bankruptcy and want to reward his return to God.  

You’ll have to ask Baldwin if he actually gets any of the money the organization is collecting via their PayPal account. We’re hoping that if he does, he donates it to a charity that doesn’t belong to Wyclef Jean, Sean Hannity or Tila Tequila.

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