On this, our lucky day, Kevin Trudeau is introducing us to his personal electromagnetic chaos eliminator.
Trudeau, who has sold millions of books by touting the curative properties of things such as magnetic toe rings and crocodile protein peptide, believes the sole thing keeping his brain from being "microwaved from the inside out" by cell phones and radio waves is this electromagnetic whatever. We are intrigued.
"Would you like to see this magical device?"
Boy, would we!
On a publicity tour in the suite of a midtown hotel room, Trudeau unbuttons his fine white dress shirt.
This seems like a good time to note how extremely well-dressed Kevin Trudeau is, in the fine tradition of TV salesmen and televangelists. Over the dress shirt is a butter-colored tie that precisely matches the pocket square tucked into his luxury Brioni suit. He wears alligator shoes. On his left wrist is a Rolex Masterpiece dripping with diamonds, and on his right ring finger is a rock so big a child could choke on it.
Over the years, Trudeau, an ex-con who never went to college or medical school, has been remarkably successful doing infomercials for everything from how to achieve a photographic memory to how to cure your addictions to how to beat cancer by ingesting a particular type of calcium that, as fate would have it, he also happened to sell.
Now he sells the most popular nonfiction book in the country, according to Publishers Weekly. In "Natural Cures 'They' Don't Want You to Know About," Trudeau explains how a massive cabal formed of the federal government, pharmaceutical companies and the media is keeping Americans from living well past 100. He advises everybody to get off prescription drugs, even if they have serious problems like diabetes or blood clots; he reveals how multiple sclerosis can be cured by magnetic mattress pads.
He says sunscreen doesn't prevent skin cancer. Instead (wait for it), sunscreen causes skin cancer.
But back to the microwaved-brain problem. Trudeau parts his shirt and reveals a necklace with a disk of metal hanging on it. Glory of glories! So flimsy, yet so powerful. This is the vaunted electromagnetic chaos eliminator. It is called a Q-Link, and for a while lots of celebrities were supposedly into it, before they joined the Kabbalah bracelet craze.
Beneath the Q-Link is another necklace with a black triangle pendant. This is yet another electromagnetic chaos eliminator, and we stop Trudeau as he's closing his shirt and ask him about it. Trudeau says he's not sure exactly what it's made of or what it does; supposedly it offers some sort of balancing "vibration." He's just trying it out to see if it works, he says, sounding a little sheepish.
"The guy who sent it to me is kinda way out there," he says.
Enemas and More Enemas
Trudeau's publishing company -- which he happens to have founded -- says he's sold 4 million copies of "Natural Cures," many of them through phone orders. While those numbers can't be verified, his sales through traditional outlets have been astonishing -- so far he's spent 16 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list.
For those who want to save their $29.95, here are the secrets to health the government is keeping from you, according to Trudeau:
Get an electromagnetic chaos eliminator. Do some "bioenergetic synchronization." Give yourself some enemas, and then give yourself some more enemas. Wear white, for positive energy. Don't use a microwave or an electric tumble dryer or fluorescent lights or artificial sweeteners; don't dry-clean your clothes or use swimming pools or eat pork. Don't use deodorant (causes cancer) or nonstick cookware (causes cancer) or watch the news (stress alters your body's pH, which can make you get cancer). Remove the metal fillings from your mouth, and you're all set!
Trudeau's "Natural Cures" also references several helpful Web sites. One claims that if you stare into the sun every day while barefoot, you won't need food anymore. Another sells an instrument that looks rather like an index card but which promises to open a "temporal and spatial gate" that "enables an individual's entire etheric system to interface with a very large, complicated, partially automated, predefined healing process."
Lastly, if you have depression, Trudeau writes, stop taking your medication and by all means stop seeing doctors, who can't be trusted. Rather, go for a long stroll outside every day and "look far away as you walk."
If that fails, the book advises you to try Scientology.
From Kirstie to Mikhail
Trudeau is a remarkable American success story in the grand tradition of traveling salesmen with cure-all potions. He could sell you your own shirt and leave you grateful for the bargain.
When he talks, his hazel eyes get big and he taps his listener on the knee. He claims he knows important people in important places. He says he was just on the phone with Kirstie Alley. He says he met Mikhail Gorbachev, "fascinating guy."
He's a victim. He's a martyr. He's just trying to help his fellow man. He hasn't been sick in 25 years and he's going to stay healthy till 150 and he might run for president one day because "there's 25 million people that would probably vote for me."
He is like a magician; you're watching his hands and all of a sudden there's some confetti and a woman in a bathing suit and when you look back, lo and behold, there's a dove. When you ask Trudeau over and over for proof of his "natural cures," he says his studies are unpublished; he says he doesn't believe in studies; he says the studies are in the book -- but they're not there. They're never there.
Watch the hands.
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.
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.
Trudeau points out that his settlements were not admissions of wrongdoing. His attorney, David Bradford, suggests that the terms of the most recent settlement weren't terribly punitive -- indeed, this was a direction Trudeau wanted to take anyway.
"Trudeau had made an independent decision that he really wanted to focus on being an author and consumer advocate," Bradford says.
Still, in his book, Trudeau claims repeatedly that he's the victim of censorship. He likens the government to the Gestapo. He compares himself to Rosa Parks and Gandhi. He says because of "this FTC suppression" he can't recommend specific products to cure his readers' illnesses.
However, he says, readers can join his Web site. For just $9.99 a month or $499 for a lifetime, they can gain access to the special members-only section, and there they can e-mail him and he'll reveal his secrets.
'They Know That I Know'
Trudeau says he has considerable proof of the conspiracy working against the health of the citizens of this nation, but the nation will have to take it on faith. He says there are "government agencies" and "entire industries" that are spending "billions of dollars" to keep people sick so they can continue to make money. He says he has Nobel Prize winners as informants.
"I can't mention their names," he says. "There's a lot of insiders that I know, that are friends of mine, but I can't mention their names because one of the reasons why I was capable of writing this book was I have so many insiders that give me the information. . . . And this is why everyone in Washington is frightened to death, and that's why the government is trying to shut me up. Because they know that I know. They know I've been in the meetings. You know what it's like? It's kind of like I've got the black book with everyone's names. And they know: This guy starts naming names, it's going to be out of control."
Readers will have to trust that Trudeau knows of a doctor who found a cure for AIDS, and that another doctor "discovered a serum that virtually made cancer tumors vanish in 90 minutes" but "was completely shut down by the FDA." Trudeau never names these doctors. He says "researchers have concluded that speaking the correct form of words and thinking the correct thoughts actually changes a person's DNA," but he never reveals who these researchers are.
Readers will have to take it on faith that Trudeau will soon be putting proceeds from the book and the Web site into nonprofit groups dedicated to teaching natural remedies and suing the government. They'll have to trust that they don't really need medications their doctors have prescribed and that the supplements they're ordering over the Internet will work.
They'll also have to ignore the places where Trudeau stretches the truth: What appears to be a back cover endorsement from a former FDA commissioner is actually a 35-year-old quote. Quotes inside are purportedly from Bill Gates in a television interview, but Trudeau puts more words in Gates's mouth. ("I paraphrased," Trudeau says.)
Trudeau's book appeals to a nation that has been disillusioned by managed health care, by rushed and impersonal doctors, by diseases that didn't use to be diseases except these days everything has a name and a pill to go with it. Ask your doctor if it's right for you.
Those who report success with Trudeau's book say they're discovering that they've been overmedicated. They've cut down on this or that drug for this or that minor problem and discovered they never needed it. They've tried the book's most conservative recommendations -- eating organic foods, taking supplements, cutting out sodas -- and write in to say they've lost weight. Few appear to be curing their muscular dystrophy, or reporting success with magnetic toe rings.
Some people post angry reviews on Amazon.com, saying they feel "ripped off" and "gullible" for buying "Natural Cures."
"It's a scary step to take," says Joyce Nuuhiwa, 61, who lives in Honolulu and has Type 2 diabetes. Nuuhiwa has read Trudeau's book, and she's considering quitting both her medications and trying a combination of herbs that Trudeau advises. (He writes in the book that this diabetes "cure" was discovered at the University of Calgary, but officials there say they've never discovered any such thing.)
Nuuhiwa is disappointed by what her doctor said -- that the disease is progressive, that eventually she'll have to be on insulin. She wants to believe the diabetes is reversible, and frankly, she doesn't trust everything doctors tell her. She suspects, for example, that there's already a cure for cancer, that Trudeau is right about the conspiracy. But she's not sure if he's right about her diabetes.
She says there's something "slick" about him that makes her uneasy.
"If I could be assured that he's totally honest I would be diving into this, but this is my life I'm talking about," she says.
He is slick, but somehow likable, too. He curses and does voice imitations. He is attractive, if not handsome, and people say he's popular with the ladies. He says he has a girlfriend who's almost 20 years younger; she's a student and part-time model.
He says he lives out his healthy living convictions. He says he recently got back from an ashram. He says he carries a shower filter with him wherever he goes, to eliminate the fluoride and chlorine he considers poisonous. After a few hours with Trudeau, you think maybe it's not all just a show. Maybe he really believes he's offering cures. Then he says this about that funny-looking necklace he wears, the electromagnetic chaos eliminator:
"If it doesn't work, what's the harm?"
He reveals that when he was young he used to perform magic tricks at kids' birthday parties.
Watch the hands.
"Kevin wouldn't allow us to have Equal in the office," says Janine Contursi, who briefly dated Trudeau in the 1980s and then worked for him in the '90s. She remembers that once, when she worked for him, she threw out her back, and Trudeau spent "thousands of dollars" to send her to an alternative health clinic. There, she was offered tips on positive thinking.
Her back did get better, she says. But it could have been because of the chiropractors.
Libby Copeland will discuss this article at noon tomorrow at www.washingtonpost.com/liveonline