Infomercial Scam King Attempts One Last Escape From the Feds

Last Updated Oct 25, 2010 5:15 PM EDT

Infomercial huckster Kevin Trudeau's world continued to crumble this week as a federal appeals court found that that direct-response TV scam artists are indeed liable for selling fruadulent cancer cures. At the same time, Trudeau awaits sentencing on a separate criminal contempt charge that he has so far managed to evade apparently by enraging the judge so much that the judge felt he had to recuse himself after making prejudicial remarks from the bench. (That, by the way, is a defense strategy that only works in the movies -- or with the Houdini-like Trudeau.)

The First Circuit Court of Appeals ruled -- unsurprisingly -- that if you go on TV and promise an unproven cure for cancer then the FTC has every right to go after the money you make. In this case, Trudeau and his partners made $54 million selling "Coral Calcium." Trudeau hosted a show with Robert Barefoot, who told viewers that unspecified articles in the Journal of the American Medical Association and the New England Journal of Medicine "said that calcium supplements reverse cancer ... that's a quote." They said no such thing. Trudeau and his companies must now give back the money they made from those sales. The panel ruled:

Despite the volume of the Defendants' arguments, we find no more substance in them than the district court found in their infomercials. We therefore affirm the district court in toto.
Curiously, Barefoot remains in business, still selling coral calcium as a cancer cure. He's also got some bizarre racial theories to share:
Bob Barefoot's Concern for Black America:
In America, Blacks Avoid the sun like the plague. As a result they get little benefit from the skin production of vitamin-D which is crucial to their health. ... blacks have melatonin, a natural sunscreen, in their skin which dramatically reduces the production of vitamin-D. Thus Whites produce more vitamin-D in 15 minutes than Blacks who sun bathe all day long
Trudeau -- best known for Natural Cures 'They' Don't Want You to Know About -- has yet to pay back a penny of the money he rooked from the idiotic consumers who believed his pitches. The federal courts are working slowly to either put him in prison or extract a further $37 million for contempt of court. Trudeau needlessly earned that conviction by churning out more infomercials for his books -- despite being banned from the infomercial business by the FTC -- and by urging his supporters to barrage the judge in his case with emails protesting his innocence.

After some scorched-earth lawyering in which Trudeau lost his appeals, Illinois federal court judge Robert Gettleman was about to send Trudeau to prison when Trudeau's lawyers pulled off the greatest act of chutzpah in the history of consumer fraud litigation: They argued that because the judge had already noted on the record what a disreputable, dishonest, creditless, ne'er-do-well Trudeau was, that the judge had prejudiced himself in the case. They quoted the judge saying:

In a December 22, 2009 hearing, [the judge said he] was not inclined to "open up a trial again," the Court stated, "This was willful, I found to be a willful contempt of a very high magnitude."

On March 12, 2010: "I don't believe [Trudeau] that he didn't make any money from this or that he only got the million dollars or whatever. I really just don't believe him at all. I've already found him to be deceitful and not credible."

On April 16, 2010 "this court will consider imposing a term of imprisonment not to exceed six months for defendant's producing and broadcasting deceptive infomercials . . . in direct and willful violation of this court's order of September 2, 2004."

And: "Trudeau has little credibility with this court. Based on his demeanor and conduct, the court has found, and continues to find, that Trudeau cannot be trusted."

There are now so many different cases docketed against Trudeau that it's difficult to figure out what happened next. Gettlemen declined to recuse himself in the criminal proceedings but then opened a new docket in which he did recuse himself, transferred the case to another yet-to-be named judge, but kept the remaining civil proceedings in his court.

Whatever happens next, the events should send a strong warning to brand managers who make bogus or exaggerated health claims for their products. The FTC and the federal courts will -- eventually -- take your profits from these ventures.