Infomercial king Kevin Trudeau, who got rich promoting what he claims are natural cures for just about every medical condition, has finally met a malady no amount of echinacea is going to put right: The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a lower court's decision that Trudeau must pay a $37.6 million fine for fibbing.
Trudeau, in an interview with ABC News, says he intends to fight on to defend his First Amendment right to speak and write freely, taking his appeal, if necessary, to the Supreme Court. His only "crime," he says, is telling truths that challenge big pharma and other entrenched interests.
That $37 million is the amount courts and FTC say consumers were defrauded by what they term deceptive infomercials used by Trudeau to promote his book "The Weight Loss Cure 'They' Don't Want You to Know About."
Trudeau is also is author of "Natural Cures 'They' Don't Want You to Know About," "Free Money 'They' Don't Want You to Know About," and other titles on things about which "They" would just as soon you remained ignorant. Some have been best-sellers.
The fine originally was levied on him in 2009 by U.S. district court Judge Robert Gettleman, who found Trudeau to be in violation of a prohibition against his misrepresenting the content of his books in his infomercials. Trudeau's infomercials, wrote Gettleman, had "falsely and intentionally led thousands (probably hundreds of thousands) of consumers to believe that the Weight Loss Book would describe an 'easy,' 'simple' protocol that, once 'finished,' would allow the consumer to 'eat anything' he or she wants."
Contrary to the prohibition, said Gettleman, the infomercials contained "undeniably false" statements, including the claim that the diet could be done easily and at home. In fact, he found, the diet recommended in the book "required colonics, which must be done in the office of a licensed practitioner;" it also required the injection of human growth hormone. The infomercial said the diet required no exercise; the book, said Gettlemen, stipulated an hour's walk daily, out of doors.
After listeners to Trudeau's radio show were given Gettleman's email address, his email system reportedly was frozen by an influx of 300 messages; his Blackberry, likewise, was temporarily shut down. Gettleman held Trudeau in contempt of court (for the third time since 2003), and sentenced him to 30 days in jail. "I can count the number of people I've held in contempt on one hand," Gettleman told the Chicago Sun Times, "and three of those fingers have Kevin Trudeau's name on them."
The FTC's war with Trudeau began 1998, when Trudeau was charged with making what a commission statement calls "false and misleading claims in infomercials for products he claimed could cause significant weight loss and cure addictions to heroin, alcohol, and cigarettes, and enable users to achieve a photographic memory." Five years later, the FTC charged him with falsely claiming in infomercials that Coral Calcium Supreme could cure cancer.
Trudeau's response consistently has been that he is being persecuted by the government, by the pharmaceutical industry and others for daring to tell the truth—for example, that you don't need to spend money on drugs to cure or prevent disease; you can accomplish the same thing with herbs and foods and lifestyle changes.
In his interview today with ABC News, he rejected the argument that there are differences of any consequence between what's in his books and his infomercials promoting them. He is being prosecuted, he says, not for any differences, but for the content itself—something protected absolutely under the First Amendment: "The government should not have the right to challenge what's in the book or to agree or disagree with content."
The 7th Circuit's decision leaves him unbowed. He says he will ask for his appeal to be heard next "en banc" by the court, meaning by all its judges at once. "If I don't get an appropriate outcome, then absolutely I'm taking it to the Supreme Court." A final legal resolution, he thinks, may not come for years.
Meantime he is writing another book—"How to Fix America"—that will address "the arrogance of the judicial system" and the "overburdening regulatory environment," as exemplified by the FTC's campaign against him.
He also is "strongly considering," he says, a run for Congress. From what state? "I haven't decided. I'm a perpetual traveler."