Just when it seemed as if infomercial king Kevin Trudeau was dealt a final knockout blow in his never-ending bout with the Federal Trade Commission, the Teflon pitchman is at it again – and he's as cocky as ever.
Who was that guy talking smack about the FTC at 5 a.m. the other night? You guessed it.
After his latest round in court, it appeared as though TV's insomnia-hours fixture had been banned from the airwaves. A federal appeals court allowed part of an earlier ruling to stand that severely limits Trudeau's commercial appearances, permitting him on only previously-aired productions he doesn't directly profit from. To air a new production, a judge said he must post a $2 million bond (the FTC asked for the bond to be set at $10 million) or be held in contempt of court.
In characteristic fashion, Trudeau has found a way to remain in the spotlight. He's not directly profiting from the books he's currently promoting -- Debt Cures and Free Money -- because the rights are owned by a third party, but he's still right there in front of the cameras pitching away in the wee hours of the morning.
To the FTC and the courts, Trudeau's recent appearances are just one more slap in the face. The FTC has branded him a modern day snakeoil salesman who misleads consumers into buying a wide range of products that he claims can help people beat cancer, fix their finances, improve their memory... basically, fix almost anything.
It's a cat and mouse game that has been going on for more than a decade. In 1998, the FTC and Trudeau negotiated a settlement over allegations his advertisements for "Hair Farming," "Mega Memory System," "Addiction Breaking System," "Action Reading," "Eden's Secret," and "Mega Reading" were deceptive. Then, in 2004, he was banned from infomercials -- except for selling books -- and settled his case with FTC by agreeing to pay $500,000 cash and by surrendering a "luxury vehicle" and a home in California. A few years later,Trudeau was back in the FTC's crosshairs regarding claims he was making about his book The Weight Loss Cure 'They' Don't Want You to Know About.
The agency filed a lawsuit alleging Trudeau was using deceptive tactics to sell the book. Earlier this year, U.S. District Court Judge Robert Gettleman fined Trudeau $37.6 million and banned him from infomercials for three years. If Trudeau were to air one of his traditionally long-form infomercials (the ones that resemble a talk show with only attractive women as guests) he would have to pay up. (Gettleman also found Trudeau in criminal contempt for exhorting his followers to pepper the judge with so many emails of support that they crashed his computer).
"Trudeau willfully deceived thousands of consumers by producing and publishing the deceptive infomercial at issue regarding the Weight Loss Cure book, causing tens of millions of dollars in losses to those consumers," Gettleman wrote in his order earlier this year. "The court has no faith in the notion that Trudeau has somehow been reformed by these proceedings or anything else that has happened since the publications of the offending infomercials in 2007. Indeed, Trudeau continues to deny that he did anything wrong, contends that his deceptive information is somehow protected by the Constitution, and pretends that he did not profit from the book or the infomercials and thus should not have to pay anything to the people he deceived."
Trudeau is appealing Gettleman's ruling and and is contemplating elevating his fight to the U.S. Supreme Court. "We're pretty bullish the ruling is blatantly unconstitutional," Trudeau says.
In fact, he maintains that while the FTC claims to be acting on behalf of consumers, he has done no harm to them. Trudeau says he has made more than 500 infomercials that have generated some $3 billion in sales and has never been the target of litigation over false or misleading advertising that came from customers.
"There's not one consumer complaint at the FTC office," he says. "It just shows the frivolous nature of what they're trying to do.This is not about protecting customers."
An FTC spokeswoman said the agency would not discuss Trudeau or the pending litigation. In fact, Trudeau remains a rather sensitive subject.
While the FTC refuses to engage outside of court with Trudeau, he knows no such bounds and, in a conversation with Consumer Ally, once again skewered the federal government and the judge's decision.
"I'm very proud of what I'm doing. I don't think we should be restricted or intimidated by the government when you write a book that they don't like," Trudeau tells Consumer Ally. "It's blatant prior restraint. The government can't stop you from doing something legally."
Yet, even with all of this rhetoric, Trudeau has lost a few rounds in the past (he freely acknowledges his felony convictions from cons pulled in his younger days) and the government's pursuit has had an impact on some of his actions. Now, nearly 80% of his business interests are overseas, for example.
"I find the business environment here very restrictive," he says.
He even claims that the government has begun harassing him. "When you start blowing the whistle on what's going on in Washington... I said I will be attacked," he says. "Every single time (I fly), my bags are looked through. That's statistically impossible."
Will Trudeau beat the odds again and regain his place on U.S. airwaves or finally wilt under the relentless pressue of the government? Stay tuned.