Bad Astronomy

Kevin Trudeau: Quackery Promoter Jailed for Contempt

Kevin Trudeau
Kevin Trudeau, late-night informecial king, was found in contempt of court for not paying a $37 million fine.

Photo by RailbirdJAM on wikipedia

Writing about critical thinking and skeptical topics can be a thankless job, but sometimes a story comes along that makes it a lot easier: As reported in the Washington Post and the Chicago Tribune, Kevin Trudeau — a man who’s done jail time for fraud, a man who got rich making multiple false claims, someone who sold “coral calcium” claiming that it can cure cancer, and has been found in contempt of court for not paying a whopping $37 million fine laid on him   — has again been found guilty of contempt of court, this time for “lying about the contents of his weight loss book in infomercials that aired seven years ago.

The difference between this time and all the others? He may be facing a lengthy sentence in federal prison.

You know Trudeau, even if the name is not familiar. He’s made and starred in countless late-night infomercials where he touts a series of “self-help” books dealing with money-making schemes, weight-loss programs, and natural “cures” (yes, writing about him means using lots of quotation marks). He promises to reveal the things “They Don’t Want You to Know About”, a clever marketing strategy that makes it seem as if The Powers That Be are suppressing information you need to get rich and healthy.

But his antics have dumped him in hot water many times, starting way back. The FTC filed a lawsuit against him in 1998, saying he made false and misleading claims in his ads about various “natural” cures. A court order forbade him from making such claims again in the future. In 2003 the FTC charged him with violating this ruling after he started promoting his ridiculous coral calcium cancer cure.

After this it gets complicated, with multiple courtroom visits, charges of misleading advertising, and fines levied. In 2004 he was ordered not to make infomercials about his products. He got around that by selling the books about the products, not the products themselves. However, he was also ordered not to “misrepresent the content” of the books.

And that is what this most recent court case was about. After a week-long trial, a jury took only 45 minutes to find that he did indeed lie about his books, violating the court order. Basically, he said a weight loss plan he was touting used easy techniques, but in fact they were anything but, including “prescription injections of a hormone found only in pregnant women, a month of colon hydrotherapy and a 500-calorie-per-day diet regimen.”

The jury found him guilty of contempt of court. As the Tribune reports,

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 [U.S. District Judge] Guzman sentences him in February.

I’ll note that this contempt case is different from the other contempt case, where he was fined $37 million based on what customers paid in response to the misleading claims. At this point, there has been some legal back-and-forth, but in the end the $37 million fine has been upheld. He still has not paid that fine (he claims he has no money, a claim the federal regulators find, um, implausible).

If you listen to his radio show, you’ll hear him talking repeatedly about the government constantly trying to suppress the truth, with nefarious figures involved in a vast conspiracy to keep people sick, so more money can be made by corporations. He also claims to be a victim of this conspiracy himself, with the government trying to keep him from telling people what’s really going on (which, his lawyers intimated, is why he was on trial).

I’ll note that he also claims to get information from a secret group called The Brotherhood, who approached him because of his “vibrational DNA”, which I swear makes even less sense when you hear him talking about it himself (at the 22:55 mark). Of course, since they’re a secret group, he cannot reveal the identities of the people in it or much else about it. Convenient.

I have to admit to a powerful sense of schadenfreude; Trudeau’s been avoiding any sort of real punishment for years. Remember, through his books, radio show, and infomercials, he sold quack cures aimed at people who were sick. I have very, very little sympathy for him.

Look. Skepticism and critical thinking are tiring. They’re exhausting. The battles against pseudoscience, against the attacks on reality, against the erosion of the ability to make rational decisions…they never end. There is always more nonsense out there, more outrageous claims that fly in the face of reality. And what’s worse is how often it’s the same thing again and again. Homeopathy, “alt-med cures”, magic wands that find bombs, garbage medical advice, antivaxxers, and on and on.

So yes, it’s an uphill climb, and one of probably infinite length. But that doesn’t mean we should give up. Our best weapons against nonsense are critical thinking and our loud voices. And sometimes, as it should, the law helps as well.

Tip o’ the gavel to Steve Cuno.