The $37.6 Million Dollar Fine HE Doesn't Want You To Know About

Bad Astronomy
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Dec. 18 2011 7:00 AM

The $37.6 Million Dollar Fine HE Doesn't Want You To Know About

If schadenfreude made a noise, then you'd be hearing it pretty loudly from me right now: Kevin Trudeau -- a convicted credit card fraud, and a man who made tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars by telling people he could cure their cancer using, get this, coral calcium -- has lost his appeal to the federal court, and must pay $37.6 million dollars in fines.

Trudeau, who shilled this false cancer cure as a diet supplement, was ordered by a federal judge in 2008 to stop making and airing infomercials about it. I wrote about this at the time, but I kept seeing those evil infomercials on TV. I wondered about this, but now I understand: Trudeau was trying to sidestep the order by selling books about this false cure, not the supplements directly. And, he kept buying up those ad spots while appealing the order. But on November 29th of this year, the appeals court said "nope".

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

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The protections, unfortunately, were too weak: Trudeau aired infomercials in violation of the order at least 32,000 times. He should not now be surprised that he must pay for the loss he caused. At a minimum, it was easily within the district court’s discretion to conclude that he should. And $37.6 million correctly measures the loss. The figure is conservative — it only considers sales from the 800-number, not sales in bookstores carrying his "As Seen on TV" titles...

Wow, so he only violated a court order 32,000 times. But wait, there's more! Apparently, there's not a lot of real info in those books; they just funnel people to a web site urging them to spend hundreds of dollars for the products he sells. So how much money do you think he really made?

The court also instituted a $2 million bond in case he tries to make more infomercials. It doesn't stop him from placing ads or writing books, just from bilking people using those long-form late night infomercials:

It does not limit Trudeau as an author; it does not curtail Trudeau’s attempt to pitch products in any print medium; it does not even apply if Trudeau makes a TV or radio ad under two minutes. Its application targets only the commercial conduct that has caused such tremendous consumer harm in the past—infomercials. Second, the district court set the performance bond at $2 million but took seriously Trudeau’s claim that it is beyond what he can afford by allowing him to file an audited financial statement and prove as much in a hearing. Third, the bond requirement is proportional to the amount of harm Trudeau caused by previous deceptive infomercials. If anything, the number seems low given that, over the course of nearly a year, Trudeau’s Weight Loss Cure infomercial sold thousands of books each day for many months.

Interesting that he claims he can't afford the $2 million bond, when he's built a billion-dollar empire on false claims. I can't imagine why they'd ask for an audited financial statement from him. I hope they get an independent auditor.

And I really wish they had forbad him from publishing of any kind. Trudeau claims this is a First Amendment issue, but it's not: there are very narrow cases where you don't have the right to say anything you want, and false advertising is very clearly one of them.

You see, his books sell for about $30 each. That means a million people bought his utterly useless advice... except it's not useless. It's worse than that: people were looking for help to cure themselves or loved ones of cancer. Instead of getting help, they were getting false hope and spinning their wheels on nonsense when they could have been looking into real medicine.

How many people died or were made sicker because of Kevin Trudeau, people who might have been helped instead? That's a number not in the court documents, nor is it knowable. Maybe it's zero. But I strongly doubt that: out of a million people who bought into his nonsense, do you really think no one, not one single person, was hurt?

And having written about Trudeau before, I don't know what makes me sadder: the damage his antiscience has done, or the fact that people will show up in the comments below defending him. They can try, but the facts remain: his claims are garbage, they can and almost certainly do hurt people, and that he's made hundreds of millions of dollars off of giving false hope to sick people. And what makes me saddest is the firm knowledge that despite all of this, he'll be back.

Tip o' the shamwow to the JREF Twitter stream.



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