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Wait, There's More

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)

He decided his new mission was to help people. (The Jewish thing didn't last.)

'One of the Best Salespeople'

In prison on the West Coast, Trudeau hooked up with a fellow inmate named Jules Leib, who was in for attempted distribution of cocaine. He gave Leib some self-help books. When they got out, they went into business together, making infomercials and selling health products as distributors for an Amway-type multilevel marketing company called Nutrition for Life. Right away the trouble started.

David Bertrand, the former president of Nutrition for Life, remembers Trudeau listening to motivational tapes "incessantly." He says Trudeau was "brilliant" and "one of the best salespeople I've ever known," and recalls that in 1996 the company nearly tripled its sales in large part because of Trudeau. The man could sell because he seemed to really believe in what he was saying, Bertrand says, but he repeatedly took it too far.

Bertrand says he became concerned that Trudeau was making overly optimistic promises to potential distributors about how much profit they could make. "We had a number of conferences where we asked him to cool it," Bertrand says. "It scared us."

At one point, Bertrand says, he learned that Trudeau had promised free trips to entice people to sign up as distributors. The trips never materialized, there were complaints, and Nutrition for Life had to step in, says Bertrand, and fund a weekend cruise for thousands of people.

"At the time he made the promise he fully intended to comply," Bertrand says. "He always intends to but he kind of gets carried away in his exuberance."

In 1996, the state of Illinois sued Trudeau and Leib, accusing them of operating an illegal pyramid scheme. The men wound up settling with Illinois and seven other states after agreeing to change their tactics. Trudeau and Leib split up, though Leib still speaks fondly of the former "life coach" who introduced him to the magic of multilevel marketing.

"He's probably one of the brightest guys you'll ever meet," says Leib. "He gave me Anthony Robbins's 'Awaken the Giant Within.' " (Later, Leib encourages a reporter to try supplements. "I'm on this great liquid," he says.)

In 1998, Trudeau paid half a million dollars to settle a Federal Trade Commission complaint that several infomercials he helped create were false and misleading. The products included a "hair farming system" that -- according to the infomercial -- was supposed to "finally end baldness in the human race," and "a breakthrough that in 60 seconds can eliminate" addictions, purportedly discovered when a certain "Dr. Callahan" was "studying quantum physics."

In 2003, the FTC came after Trudeau again. The complaint and a separate contempt action centered on two products, one of which, Coral Calcium Supreme, was being billed as a cure for cancer, according to the FTC. Trudeau's guest on the infomercial, a man named Robert Barefoot, went so far as to claim that in cultures that consume a lot of calcium, people are so healthy "they don't even have children until they're in their seventies when they're mature enough to handle kids."

This time, said FTC attorney Heather Hippsley, the settlement was "unprecedented" in its scope. In addition to paying $2 million (in part by handing over his $180,000 Mercedes Benz), Trudeau agreed not to do any more infomercials selling products or services. The only thing he would be permitted to sell on-air was "informational publications," and he has greater leeway with what he can say in those because of his right to free speech.

Hence, the book.

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