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.

But in the book or on the Web site, many doctors have expressed serious concerns about Trudeau's cures, saying his advice is not only misleading, it could actually hurt people.

"Stop taking nonprescription and prescription drugs," the book instructs. "Remember, drugs are poisons. This includes vaccines."

Trudeau says drugs are only OK in exceptional circumstances -- such as trauma or in surgery. His book makes other outrageous claims.

Trudeau writes in his book -- which has sold more than 5 million copies and will be listed as No. 1 on this Sunday's New York Times best-seller list for hardcover "advice" books -- that "the sun does not cause cancer. Sun block has been shown to cause cancer. The ingredients in sun block are now strongly believed to be the number one cause of skin cancer." He says "antiperspirants and deodorants contain deadly poisons," and that AIDS is "one of the greatest hoaxes and deceptions ever perpetrated on the American public."

The government and the pharmaceutical companies conspire to keep natural cures from you, he insists, to make money by selling medicine.

"It's so profitable to the companies that sell it," he says. "Chemotherapy kills more people than cancer itself."

Trudeau has no medical training and no particular health expertise. What he does have is a following, and that's what concerns so many in the established medical community.

"I tell people, 'Don't listen to me,'" Trudeau responds when asked why anyone should listen to him instead of their doctor. "I say, 'I'm reporting, and I'm giving you facts, make an informed decision.'"

Trudeau asks why anyone should listen to the Food and Drug Administration. "This is the same organization that said Vioxx is safe and effective," he said."Then they said, 'Oops, we were wrong.' Why should we listen to them?"

But some of Trudeau's claims do not stand scrutiny.

Asked for his "natural cure" for diabetes, Trudeau continually cites a study from the University of Calgary, which he says "has 25 years of research" of a natural way to make it so "diabetes can be, if not completely cured and wiped out in America, dramatically reduced by this herbal combination."

But when asked, the University of Calgary told ABC News that "there is no scientific evidence that any herbal remedy can cure any form of diabetes. In our review of the claims made by Trudeau's book, we have established that there have been no human studies conducted at the University of Calgary in the past 20 years on herbal remedies for diabetes."

Trudeau responded that he was "shocked and amazed" and that he would send us documentation he was referring to. We never did receive that documentation.

The book also claims: "All of the author's royalties on the sale of this book are being used to help fund the mission of educating people about natural health care and exposing corporate and government corruption."

But that "mission of educating people" includes paying for Trudeau's flights and luxury hotel stays as he jets around the country for interviews, he acknowledges.

He says it's "just like when you give money to the American Cancer Society, and the president flies on a corporate private Gulfstream [jet], stays in the Four Seasons hotel, your donation paid for that because he's -- in his opinion -- helping to spread the news about cancer."

A Future in Politics?

But his latest, quite successful incarnation as an author isn't the final stage of Trudeau's career, he says.

After one of his rants against the pharmaceutical industry and tort reform, it's noted to Trudeau that he sounds like he's going to run for office.

"I am," he says.

Really?

"Absolutely," he says. "There's 25 million people in this country who purchase my products."

He says he hasn't decided what office he'll run for, but it would be as an independent and it would be for federal office. "In order to make a change, you have to stand up and expose the corruption in government, and the ... connection between big corporations and government."

House? Senate? Presidency?

"One of those three," he says.

ABC News' Ted Gerstein, Zena Barakat and Melinda Arons contributed to this report.

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