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Kevin Trudeau’s Legal Trouble

Kevin Trudeau has made millions of dollars selling dubious medical products. He started his snake-oil salesman career selling coral calcium through infomercials. Trudeau claimed that this magical form of calcium could cure cancer and whatever ails you. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) investigated Trudeau, who was making millions off his claims, and found that he was being, let us say, less than honest. As a result the FTC banned Trudeau from selling health products through infomercials.

But Trudeau is tenacious and creative – an innovator. Prior to getting into infomercials he was small time – he was convicted for writing bad checks and credit card fraud and spent some time in prison. I always find it interesting that convicted con-artists seem to hit upon such well-guarded secrets. Dennis Lee claims to have found the secret of limitless energy, if only he were not attacked by Big Oil and a corrupt government. Kevin Trudeau claims to have found the cures for just about everything, but The Man is trying to shut him down.

Undeterred by the FTC ban, Trudeau decided that even though he could not sell health products he could sell information – that was protected under free speech – so he started selling books through infomercial, including Natural Cures They Don’t Want You To Know About. Trudeau claimed he went from writing bad checks to discovering not only hundreds of natural cures but uncovering a government and Big Medicine conspiracy to keep this vital information from the public.

What is even more amazing than the audacity of these claims is that a sufficient portion of the population is credulous enough to throw millions of dollars at the likes of Trudeau and Lee. Thankfully in most civilized nations it is a crime to lie to people in order to take their money. The problem has always been enforcement – authorities don’t have the resources to keep up with the constant whack-a-mole game against con artists. Sometimes they lack adequate authority to hand out punishments that would serve as a true deterrent.

However, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has apparently kept their sights on Kevin Trudeau and seem to finally be putting a dent in his snake oil empire – perhaps. Trudeau’s financial success with natural cures led him to follow up with the books for debt management and then weight loss. Apparently in addition to being a convicted fraud, Trudeau is a medical and financial genius.

It is his weight loss cure that now has the FTC;s attention – they are taking him to task for misrepresenting his diet cure, which Trudeau has claimed is an “easy” method for weight loss. This “easy” method involves a 500 calorie per day diet (OK, you can stop there, but he adds), prescription hormone injections, and colonics for a month. It’s just that easy – no wonder the diet industry wants to keep this under wraps. If people knew they could lose weight just by eating 500 calories per day, why would they waste time and money on any other diet product.

A Federal judge (aka The Man) decided that Trudeau violated the consent decree that the FTC had placed on Trudeau – essentially saying he cannot lie to the public to sell his wares. The Chicago Tribune reports:

At first, Gettleman imposed a $5.2 million fine. The FTC petitioned for a modest increase, and without a detailed explanation the judge jacked it up to $37.6 million, the regulator’s estimate of how much the book took in through infomercials.

In addition to the fine Trudeau was banned for three years from infomercial. In response Trudeau is pleading poverty. He actually has the temerity to claim that he made no money from the book, that it was all altruism and charity on his part. Just stunning.

At present the case is still in appeal. The fine and 3-year ban is being questioned. Reuters reports:

Writing for a three-judge panel, Judge John Tinder said a lower court judge properly held Trudeau in contempt for having “outright lied” about the content of a book, “The Weight Loss Cure ‘They’ Don’t Want You to Know About.”

Yet the judge was “troubled” by the punishment because it was unclear how the fine was determined, and because the infomercial ban did not consider the possibility that Trudeau could mend his ways.

Hopefully they will be able to back up the fine, which was apparently based on estimates of how much money Trudeau made from sales of the book. That is a factual claim that will hopefully be settled by reviewing the evidence. However, it is incredible to me that the judge was troubled because he feels Trudeau could mend his ways. It is hard for me to see this sentiment as anything but hopelessly naive – not a characteristic common among judges. Trudeau has been a relentless con-artist. He graduated from credit card fraud to infomercials selling snake oil, then weasled out of an FTC ban by selling books, and now is yet again determined to be lying to the public to take their money.

How can anyone familiar with Trudeau’s history, and faced with the fact that he is still working the system with the incredible claim that he made no money from his book, come to the conclusion that he could “mend his ways.”

This must also be put into the context that the people who followed the medical advice in Trudeau’s books, or relied upon his coral calcium claims, or bought into his anti-mainstream medicine conspiracy theories put their health at risk. Trudeau is beyond three strikes. In my opinion he should be banned for life from selling anything to the public and fined every dime he earned through fraud and deception.

Perhaps the laws themselves are inadequate. RICO laws were passed because organized crime could often weasle out of individual convictions or minimize their prison time. RICO allows for career criminals to be prosecuted for a conspiracy to commit ongoing criminal activity. In other words, the pattern of criminality is taken into consideration. Such laws should also apply to career con-artists – or new laws should be passed to deal with such cases. Otherwise FTC fines and bans are little more than a minor nuisance and the cost of doing business.

Posted in: Politics and Regulation, Public Health, Science and Medicine

Leave a Comment (12) ↓

12 thoughts on “Kevin Trudeau’s Legal Trouble

  1. Harriet Hall says:

    “the infomercial ban did not consider the possibility that Trudeau could mend his ways.”

    I almost fell off my chair laughing when I read that.

  2. kausikdatta says:

    …the possibility that Trudeau could mend his ways

    Leopards and spots… :D

    One thing that never fails to boggle the mind about this great country. For a snake-oil salesman to be successful (in the order of millions of dollars), there must be snake-oil consumers in the millions, too. Which means, millions of people, floating through life, without an ounce of critical thinking.

    Who, where are these people?

    What can I sell them?

  3. brewme says:

    I admit, I was one of these people. Glad to hear that he is in trouble, the book was complete garbage.

  4. skepchick says:

    I seriously considered buying at least one of Trudeau’s books just to see what was included, but I decided that I didn’t want that skank to ever have one penny of my hard-earned cash.

  5. Sir Eccles says:

    Millions of snake oil customers?

    Or, one or two really rich fools buying expensive snake oil? Have you seen the price of some of this quackery?

  6. dedicated lurker says:

    Skepchick – I read it in the store with my sister, laughing all the while. There was obviously no proofreader, he refers you to his (pay) website hundreds of times, and he apparently wants us to all become organic Orthodox Jewish Scientologists. (You see, he tells you to only eat organic kosher meat, not to eat pork or shellfish, and to look into Scientology.) I have praised his book as a comedic novel. Too bad it’s supposed to be non-fiction.

  7. Joe says:

    Skepchick, you may enjoy reading reviews of Trudeau’s books at Amazon. True believers were panning it, largely for the reason mentioned by D. Lurker- because after buying the book one must still buy access to what one wants. Rumor has it that Trudeau subsequently flooded the site with favorable reviews. Due to demand, libraries bought multiple copies of the books and I figure each library copy results in multiple lost sales for Trudeau.

    Several years ago, I saw a Trudeau infomercial. There was a “doctor” and an interviewer; two people were milling around a “laboratory” in the background. There was an impressive piece of lab equipment slowly spinning; but it was upside-down!

  8. Mojo says:

    @Skepchick:

    I seriously considered buying at least one of Trudeau’s books just to see what was included, but I decided that I didn’t want that skank to ever have one penny of my hard-earned cash.

    I always keep an eye out for this sort of book in charity shops. I get the book, the money goes to a good cause, and (as a bonus) the book is kept out of the hands of people who might be taken in by it.

  9. Versus says:

    His plea of poverty says a lot about his skills at “debt management.” I saw one of his books at a bookstore and thought “what kind of idiot would buy this?” Little did I know.

    As to his legal troubles, I’m not sure how mending one’s ways is relevant to the imposition of a fine — it could be a statutory factor the trial judge has to consider is setting a fine, analagous to factors a judge considers in sentencing. It also could be that Trudeau’s previous shenanigans were not part of the record in this particular case so the appellate judge may not have been aware of them. Once the case gets back to the trial judge I am sure the government will have no problem in getting what they need in the record to show he most certainly will not mend his ways and why the fine should stand and that the trial judge will be more explicit about the calculation of the fine in his opinion.

    RICO IS a possibility in pursuing con men (and women) if their conduct falls within the statute, such as through wire fraud and mail fraud.

    I agree that the consumer laws need to be strenghened and agencies need sufficient resources. This sort of person is not easily deterred and only a good chance of getting caught, large fines and jail time will get their attention.

  10. WhyDoINeedAUserName says:

    I’m a lawyer. Reuters did a bad job of explaining the “mend his ways” bit here.

    There are two types of contempt – civil and criminal. Civil contempt is to stop ongoing misconduct, while criminal contempt is to punish you for past misconduct. Since Trudeau was only hit with civil contempt, the penalty can’t extend beyond stopping his misconduct – this is what Reuters interpreted as if he mends his ways, he’s ok.

    The prosecutor could go for criminal contempt, but the burden of proof and procedural protections he would get are higher.

  11. Scott says:

    That makes a good bit of sense – thanks for clarifying for us!

  12. Joseph C. says:

    The funny thing about all this is that they’ve not stopped Kevin at all.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8wlXqqYBOwI

    He’s still making infomercials!

    I think even if you put him in jail, he’d find a way to film more infomercials from the stock room of the cafeteria kitchen: “Kevin Trudeau’s Shanking Techniques That ‘They’ Don’t Want You To Know About”.

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