Is Infomercial King a Helper or Huckster?

Kevin Trudeau is handsome, charming and a financial success.

A few weeks ago in Chicago, at the multimillion-dollar pool tournament he has personally founded and financed, Trudeau bounded through his legions of fans and supporters like Sinatra at the Sands.

With a best-selling book, "Natural Cures They Don't Want You to Know About," as well as the No. 1 ranked infomercial to promote the book, Trudeau says he has a following of millions.

Without question, he has a familiar face. If you've watched late night TV, you know Trudeau. "Since 1989, I've been on TV, talking about the products that I've authored -- like Mega Memory, Mega Speed Reading and Mega Math," Trudeau says. In infomercial after infomercial, he's pitched products that he promised will improve -- if not save -- your life.

But at least some of those claims went a little too far for the U.S. government. In 2004, Trudeau became the only person ever banned from selling a product on television. The Federal Trade Commission said that Trudeau falsely claimed that a coral calcium product could cure cancer and other serious diseases and that a product called Biotape could cure or relieve severe pain.

"This ban is meant to shut down an infomercial empire that has misled American consumers for years," said Lydia Parnes from the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection. "Other habitual false advertisers should take a lesson: mend your ways or face serious consequences." Read the FTC release at www.ftc.gov/opa/2004/09/trudeaucoral.htm.

Still Selling

Trudeau is permitted to sell his book since, under the First Amendment, it does not qualify as a "product." As part of his agreement with the FTC, he paid $2 million in "consumer redress."

But here's how Trudeau presents his interaction with the FTC:

"There's been no finding of any wrongdoing," he says. "They filed charges against me, for alleged misconduct, and they had to drop all the charges."

It was pointed out to him that a settlement is different from dropping the charges.

"How is it different?" he asked.

Dropping charges involves an acknowledgment that the government could not make its case, it was said. His 2004 settlement with the FTC "bans him from appearing in, producing or disseminating future infomercials that advertise any type of product, service or program to the public, except for truthful infomercials for informational publications.

"In addition, Trudeau cannot make disease or health benefits claims for any type of product, service or program in any advertising, including print, radio, Internet, television and direct mail solicitations, regardless of the format and duration."

Plus he had to fork over $2 million.

"No," Trudeau says. "There was not one penny in fines." ABC News hadn't called it a fine, however. It was $2 million in "consumer redress," which Trudeau satisfied by giving the government more than $500,000 in cash, as well as his house in Ojai, Calif., and a Mercedes-Benz.

He's a fast-talking fellow, Mr. Trudeau.

"The government situation is a joke," he says when pressed, "and everybody knows it's a joke. The government is trying to discredit me because of the book, because I'm exposing them."

Dangerous Cures?

Instead of products such as Coral Calcium, Trudeau now hits the airwaves to sell his book, which promises magical natural cures. But not all of them are in the book. "Natural Cures" often refers readers to his Web site, which requires lifetime membership at a price of approximately $500.

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