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A fixture on infomercials before a run-in with the FTC, Kevin Trudeau has a best-selling book,
A fixture on infomercials before a run-in with the FTC, Kevin Trudeau has a best-selling book, "Natural Cures 'They' Don't Want You to Know About." (By Helayne Seidman For The Washington Post)

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He does an infomercial with Tammy Faye Bakker Messner and manages to seem utterly reasonable.

He makes the credit-card fraud and larceny he committed in his twenties sound like no big deal.

Trudeau, who now lives in Ojai, Calif., east of Santa Barbara, grew up near Boston. He says his dad was a welder and his mom a housewife. He went to his first Amway meeting at 15, and there learned he wanted to be "financially free." He started a mail-order business, which he says netted him a $1 million profit by the time he was 18.

After high school he sold cars, then joined the seminar circuit, offering techniques to help people improve their memories. It was during this period that he says he got caught up in the fast life and making money. In 1990, he pleaded guilty to depositing $80,000 in worthless checks. In the sentencing memorandum, prosecutors said he impersonated a doctor when he met with bank officials. Trudeau says he served fewer than 30 days.

In 1991, he pleaded guilty to obtaining and fraudulently using 11 credit cards and served close to two years in federal prison.

Trudeau, now 42, has several explanations for his crimes: They were youthful indiscretions and not as bad as they sound, and besides, both were partly the fault of other people, and besides, he has changed. The larceny he explains as a series of math errors compounded by the "mistake" of a bank official. As for why the bank thought he was a doctor, that was just a simple misunderstanding, because he jokingly referred to himself as a "doctor in memory."

He still can't quite believe he was prosecuted. "Give me a break," he says.

The fraud he says he committed because he paid a bill late, which led to American Express giving him a bad credit rating, which just wasn't right. After that, no one would give him a credit card, which was "insane," so he had little choice but to apply for cards with fake Social Security numbers.

According to officials at the time, Trudeau also misappropriated for his own use credit card numbers belonging to customers who'd signed up for his memory improvement courses. The man formerly known as "Mr. Mega Memory" says he doesn't think he did that, but adds that was a "very blurry time in my history with all the stress."

He calls that prosecution "outrageous" and says American Express and the prosecutor had it in for him, rather like he believes the federal government has it in for him now.

"It was a sad day because I remember walking into the courtroom and above the courtroom it says these words which are completely untrue: 'Hall of Justice,' " Trudeau says, relaxing in the hotel suite with fresh fruit and magnetic water nearby. "And I thought, 'This is not the Hall of Justice because this is not justice. This should say 'Hall of the Technicalities of the Law.' Where's the justice? Where's King Solomon? But I said, 'Y'know, I've been focused on making money and what I did was wrong -- even though it wasn't a heinous crime and I could justify it nine different ways.' "

In any case, in prison "everything got reprioritized," and Trudeau says he decided to stop focusing on money. He became buddies with a visiting Lubavitch rabbi. He decided to try out being Jewish (he'd gone to Catholic schools) and found out about "corruption in the Department of Justice" when he had difficulty getting kosher food.


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