As he watched television one night about three months ago, Mike Hendry came across an infomercial for a book promising cures for a range of afflictions from diabetes to cancer.
Author Kevin Trudeau was smooth, reassuring and convincing as he pitched "Natural Cures 'They' Don't Want You to Know About." The normally skeptical Hendry, who has arthritis, shelled out $39.99 for the book.
"I wasn't too far into it before I realized it wasn't saying anything," the 39-year-old said.
Hendry is one of the millions of people who have helped Trudeau — a prolific pitchman who has done jail time — top The New York Times and Wall Street Journal best-sellers lists and hit No. 2 on the USA Today chart. It's an astonishing success for a self-published book dismissed by medical officials and labeled misleading by government officials. The high profile also led the New York Consumer Protection Board to warn people about the infomercial last month.
A federal judge on Sept. 6 granted an injunction at Trudeau's request to stop the board from asking cable stations to pull the infomercial. But U.S. District Court Judge Gary Sharpe noted that he hadn't previously issued a restraining order against the consumer board, as Trudeau had claimed in an Aug. 18 press release.
It's that kind of legal battle that Trudeau uses — along with the book's provocative title — to pump up the perception that the government is out to keep sick people sick, said Arthur Caplan, chair of the Department of Medical Ethics at the University of Pennsylvania.
"He's anticipated any backlash with his cuckoo conspiracy theory; he's built a firewall around himself," Caplan said.
Caplan said the book preys on distrust of the health care system. "Too many people feel like they're getting the runaround, so they're susceptible to books like this."
"He uses the magic word 'cure.' That's a serious statement for people who are vulnerable and desperate for some sort of help," said Theresa Santiago, chairwoman of New York's Consumer Protection Board.
Trudeau countered that the consumer agency, Federal Trade Commission and doctors are upset because they're pawns of drug companies. Doctors are trained primarily in surgery and prescribing drugs and receive virtually zero training in nutrition, he told The Associated Press.
The overwhelming majority of readers love his book, he said, and the book has a return rate of less than 3 percent. Infomercials for "Natural Cures" are still airing nationally, despite a settlement with the FTC last year that banned Trudeau from doing infomercials "that advertise any type of product, service, or program to the public, except for truthful infomercials for informational publications," according to the FTC.
"They've made false charges against me," Trudeau told The Early Show co-anchor Harry Smith. "In every single case, they've had to drop the charges, and they've had to sign a document stating, after the full investigation, no finding of any wrongdoing. No finding!"
When the settlement was announced, The FTC said, "This ban is meant to shut down an infomercial empire that has misled American consumers for years," referring to various other products Trudeau has endorsed. The current infomercial is exempt because it's an expression of an opinion protected by the first amendment, said FTC attorney Laura Fishman.
"I'm not a medical doctor," Trudeau told Smith. "I state that in the book. That's why I'm qualified to talk about health. Because I'm not a drug pusher. I'm not a pharmaceutical rep."
He said he has studied independently by visiting medical institutions around the world and reading books on a wide range of health topics.
He argues that his book, which now sells for $17.49 on Amazon.com, wouldn't have sold millions of copies unless it helped people.
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