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FTC Pulls Plug on Infomercial Giant

By Frank Ahrens
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 8, 2004; Page E01

With his open, honest-seeming Midwestern face and interview-show format, infomercial king Kevin Trudeau has been ubiquitous on television for well over a decade, peddling products that claim to extend life, stop pain, shed pounds, expand memory power, and cure lupus and multiple sclerosis.

No more. Yesterday, the Federal Trade Commission largely kicked Trudeau off television.

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The agency banned him "from appearing in, producing, or disseminating future infomercials that advertise any type of product, service, or program to the public," meaning Trudeau can no longer appear on television except to sell products that make no claims.

The extraordinary prohibition, believed to be the agency's first, puts the same limits on Trudeau's presentations in newspapers, magazines and direct mail and on radio and the Internet. In addition to the ban, Trudeau will pay $2 million to settle an FTC lawsuit against him for claiming that a product called Coral Calcium Supreme can cure cancer and a piece of plastic called Biotape can stop chronic pain when stuck to the skin.

To satisfy the fine, Trudeau will pay $500,000 in cash and hand over one of his Southern California homes and his $180,000 Mercedes-Benz. If Trudeau is found to have lied about his wealth, he could be liable for up to $20 million in damages.

"We felt the ban was a necessary remedy because he is a recidivist as well as being prolific," said FTC lawyer Heather Hippsley. A court found that Trudeau violated a 1998 FTC order banning him from pitching spurious products.

The settlement includes no admission of guilt or wrongdoing, said Trudeau's lawyer, Chicago's David J. Bradford.

"Everyone would agree that these products are good for you," Bradford said in an interview yesterday. "There may be disagreement over how good they are and he may be accused from time to time of being hyperbolic about how good they are, but there is no dispute that calcium is good for people. So this is not somebody who's selling cigarettes or anything else alleged to be harmful."

The Biotape Web site includes the following disclaimer: "We make no claims on this Web page that Biotape will stop, heal, or relieve pain. It is offered for sale only for research purposes -- to explore the Chinese definition of pain. The only claim we make is that Biotape connects the 'broken Chi' (endogenous electrical signals in living tissue) which traditional Chinese medicine defines as the cause of pain."

The marine coral, which costs about $20 for a month's supply, comes from the Japanese island of Okinawa and allows residents to live to be 140 years old, claimed the infomercial.

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