TV pitchman Kevin Trudeau found guilty of contempt, ordered held

Chicago Tribune/November 12, 2013

By Jason Meisner

Chicago-based TV pitchman Kevin Trudeau has made a fortune marketing himself as a truth teller who reveals secrets that the rich and powerful want to keep from the public.

Hawking everything from financial advice to weight-loss solutions, the smooth-talking Trudeau managed for more than a decade to stay one step ahead of the government's efforts to silence him, all the while amassing a cult-like following as federal regulators hounded him in court and imposed a whopping $37 million fine.

On Tuesday, a federal jury wasn't buying what Trudeau was selling. The panel of six men and six women deliberated just 45 minutes before finding the controversial author guilty of criminal contempt of court for lying about the contents of his weight loss book in infomercials that aired seven years ago.

It was a swift end to an unusual weeklong trial at the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse for Trudeau, 50, who showed little reaction to the verdict as he sat on the edge of his seat. Moments later, Trudeau was unceremoniously taken into custody on orders from U.S. District Judge Ronald Guzman, who expressed concern that the man so familiar to late-night TV viewers posed a risk to flee. Prosecutors believe he has millions hidden in overseas accounts.

About two dozen disappointed Trudeau supporters slowly filed out of the courtroom, some clutching copies of his books with tears in their eyes.

Downstairs, in the courthouse lobby, follower Jumal Lewis, 33, of Minnesota, improbably likened Trudeau to South African civil rights leader Nelson Mandela, saying Trudeau's books have put him and countless others on a path to success.

"He has changed a lot of people's lives," said Lewis, who identified himself as a member of the Global Information Network, an international "club" in which members pay dues to hear motivational speakers — including Trudeau — share their secrets of wealth. "People don't get on a plane and travel from France or Japan because he's selling some fluff."

Trudeau's jailing marked his third stay in the Metropolitan Correctional Center in two months. Another federal judge had twice jailed Trudeau for about a week combined to try to force him to reveal his assets in order to pay off the massive Federal Trade Commission fine.

But this time Trudeau could face years in prison. With no maximum sentence for contempt of court in federal statutes, he faces anywhere from probation to life in prison when Guzman sentences him in February.

The controversy surrounding Trudeau's hit book, "The Weight Loss Cure 'They' Don't Want You to Know About," has raged since 2004 when the FTC imposed a consent decree banning Trudeau from misrepresenting its contents. Regulators said he violated the order a few years later with infomercials claiming the book was filled with "easy" techniques when it actually called for prescription injections of a hormone found only in pregnant women, a month of colon hydrotherapy and a 500-calorie-per-day diet regimen.

In the six years since the fine was levied by U.S. District Judge Robert Gettleman, regulators said Trudeau has failed to pay a penny, claiming he was broke even though he continued to live high off the hog with fancy dinners, luxury homes and expensive cigars. The FTC also accused Trudeau of embarking on a frantic effort to shield his assets from the government by moving them offshore and creating a complex network of companies that — on paper — were owned by his wife, friends or associates.

Throughout the court fight, Trudeau has remained outspoken. After Gettleman approved the fine, Trudeau used Internet radio broadcasts and his website to urge supporters to email the judge about their support of Trudeau's products. Hundreds of messages came pouring in, crashing Gettleman's email account and leading the judge to find him in contempt.

Even as the years of litigation came to a head this summer, Trudeau still was airing webcasts alleging he was being persecuted by vindictive bureaucrats who don't want the public to know the secrets of the powerful. "I look at this government right in the eye and say, 'You want to put me in jail?'" he said in one video posting on his website earlier this year. "Let's go to court, baby."

In his criminal contempt trial, the focus was on the three half-hour infomercials that aired on late-night TV in 2006 and 2007. In the programs, an energetic Trudeau told viewers he'd uncovered a secret and permanent weight loss plan that was devised by a British doctor in the 1950s and was being covered up by the government and big food companies that wanted to keep people fat.

The key to the program was a "miracle substance" that changed the body's metabolism, allowing people to eat as much as they wanted — from pot roast and mashed potatoes to ice cream sundaes with real whipped cream — and not gain any weight, Trudeau claimed. He said there was no exercise or dieting, no portion control or calorie counting required.

"This is the simplest and most effective way to lose weight on planet Earth, and it's being hidden from the public," he said in one infomercial.

Trudeau's attorney, Thomas Kirsch, told jurors Tuesday in closing arguments that the claims were no different from any other advertising that consumers are bombarded by every day.

"Watch any television commercial for any product — it's the views and opinions of the persons who are making and selling the product," Kirsch said. "That's what advertising is."

Taking jurors through a PowerPoint presentation, Kirsch argued that everything Trudeau said in the infomercials was repeated in the book, sometimes on multiple pages. He pointed to legal disclaimers displayed on the videos explaining that they were paid advertisements and that anyone undertaking the weight loss program should consult a doctor.

Kirsch also reminded jurors that his client was a longtime and outspoken critic of big government and corporations and insinuated that was the reason the criminal charges were brought.

"He's extremely critical of the government, and here he is," Kirsch said.

But prosecutors tore apart Trudeau's claims that his book was not a diet that required portion control or calorie counting. As Assistant U.S. Attorney Marc Krickbaum spoke, a photo on a large projection screen showed the limitations of 500 calories a day: coffee, tea and water, a handful of vegetables and a couple of pieces of beef or chicken about the size of a deck of cards.

"Words mean things," Krickbaum said. "If he had said what was truly in the book, he would have sold a lot fewer books. That's why he chose to lie about it."

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