PORTLAND – You’ve got to admit it, their sales pitch was good.

Slash your taxes! Protect your assets from lawsuits, bankruptcy and divorce! Learn to negotiate the Donald Trump way!

Okay, so I added the exclamation points. But when the invitation to attend Trump’s 2007 Creating Wealth Summit appeared in western Maine mailboxes this month, those promises seemed to scream.

Maybe it was Trump’s smiling photo that first caught my attention. Or the fact that it was free. But throw in those secret money-making tips by rich experts (plus Trump’s son, Eric), and I was hooked.

The Sun Journal agreed to send me Friday. And I, with a net worth of $23.56, agreed to go.

The traveling financial conference is held a few times a week all over the country.

About 600 people showed up for Portland’s event, and the Holiday Inn By the Bay ballroom filled by 8 a.m.

Around me, people talked about Trump (the bankruptcy thing), young Trump (how much is he worth?) and how to become like Trump (minus the bankruptcy thing).

When motivational and self improvement speaker Bob Kittell bounded on stage, fast-talking and polished, everyone was ready. If a little sleepy.

“There are three kinds of people. People who make things happen. People who watch things happen. And people who wonder what just happened,” he said to a smattering of laughter.

To illustrate, he offered to swap a $5 bill for a $1 bill. The audience froze.

Did he mean it? He couldn’t mean it.

One man ran up, thrust a dollar into Kittell’s hand and walked away with the five.

Kittell repeated it with a $20 bill. Then he gave away $100.

No one was sleepy anymore.

When Kittell’s motivational speech slid effortlessly into sly sales pitch for his $20 improve-your-memory DVD, there was little grumbling. Nobody seemed to mind either when he started to talk about stocks – especially when he told us about a woman who made $15,000 a year and ended up a millionaire.

“Can you depend on your government or your employer to take care of you in retirement?” he asked.

“No, no, no, no, no,” one woman said with conviction.

We learned that money-making stocks are hard to pick. There’s researching and evaluating and calculating and timing. So much work, so little chance of success!

“The masses are out there flipping a coin every day,” Kittell said.

But we could make it easier with Web site called Investools.com, he said. At a cost of $1,999.

Of course after the conference, he warned, it’d be $6,600.

People rushed to sign up.

For the next nine hours, things pretty much went the same way.

Lawyer Robert Bluhm spoke about slashing taxes legally (“We are never cute with the IRS,” he emphasized) and protecting assets from lawsuits, liens, nasty ex-spouses.

After an hour of horror stories – dreams destroyed, family fortunes lost – even I started wondering about setting up a living trust or family limited partnership to protect my $23.56. After all, it seemed so easy with the program. And only $2,995.

Wayne Gray talked about investing in tax liens. Low-cost. Safe. A sky-high rate of return.

“Get out of your box and do something different,” he advised.

For just $1,995, his program could show us how.

Real estate investor James Smith, irreverent, sarcastic and funny, urged buying property, even with bad credit, a low income and no money down.

“You should get happy because I’m not going to sell you my stupid books and tapes,” he said.

But two hours later, we learned the best way to get into real estate was to go through his training program. For $5,995, we would get the three-day workshop and a personal real estate trainer.

Only Eric Trump didn’t try to sell something. He just gave tips from his dad.

With less than $24, it seemed I had no hope of a career in real estate or tax liens. I didn’t buy, and couldn’t afford, anything to kick-start my Trump-like life. But others did.

Some said the sales pitches wowed them. Others got a taste of knowledge and wanted more.

Landlords Dawn and Ed Hodsdon of Monmouth bought the asset-protection kit.

“We know how to protect ourselves now if we’re as successful as they say,” Dawn said.

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