Best-selling author Kevin Trudeau, whose name became synonymous with late-night TV pitches, was sentenced to 10 years in prison Monday for bilking consumers through ubiquitous infomercials for his book, "The Weight Loss Cure `They' Don't Want You to Know About."
As he imposed the sentence prosecutors had requested, U.S. District Judge Ronald Guzman portrayed the 50-year-old Trudeau as a habitual fraudster going back to his early adulthood. So brazen was Trudeau, the judge said, he once even used his own mother's Social Security number in a scheme.
"Since his 20s, he has steadfastly attempted to cheat others for his own gain," Guzman said, adding that Trudeau is "deceitful to the very core."
'He has treated federal court orders as if they were mere suggestions ... or impediments to be side-stepped, outmanoeuvred or just ignored.' - U.S. District Judge Ronald Guzman
Trudeau, whose trademark dyed black hair turned partially gray as he awaited sentencing in jail, showed little emotion as the stiff sentence was handed down at the hearing in Chicago.
Addressing the judge earlier in a 10-minute statement, Trudeau apologized and said he's become a changed man. He said he's meditated, prayed and read self-help books while locked up at Chicago's Metropolitan Correctional Center.
While Trudeau appeared calm throughout the hearing, one of his supporters interrupted the judge at one point and began to speak. After cutting the judge short a second time, the man dropped to the floor and refused to leave. U.S. marshals carried him out of the courtroom."I have truly had a significant reawakening," said Trudeau, who was dressed in orange jail clothes. "If I ever do an infomercial again ... I promise: No embellishments, no puffery, no lies."
Defying court orders
Jurors convicted Trudeau of criminal contempt in November for defying a 2004 court order barring him from running false ads about the weight-loss book. Despite the order, he aired the infomercials at least 32,000 times, according to prosecutors.
He sold more than 850,000 copies of the weight-loss book, generating $39 million in revenue, prosecutors say. And the judge agreed with prosecutors that the amount of loss stemming from Trudeau's deception was more than $37 million — nearly the amount in revenue.
But in remarks Monday asking for a sentence of less than two years for his client, defense attorney Tom Kirsch said the harm Trudeau caused was minor compared to fraud in which some people are cheated out of their life savings.
"A 10-year sentence might be appropriate for a defendant who destroyed lives," Kirsch said. "(But) Trudeau — if he swindled anyone — swindled them out of $30 (the price of the book)."
Another defense attorney, Carolyn Gurland, added that Trudeau's legal troubles had already cost him his businesses and his home, and nearly all his other worldly possessions.
"He has a suitcase containing his personal artifacts. That's what he has left," she said.
But Guzman showed little sympathy, appearing angry as he said that Trudeau had thumbed his nose at the justice system by violating multiple court orders since the 1990s.
"He has treated federal court orders as if they were mere suggestions ... or impediments to be side-stepped, outmanoeuvred or just ignored," the judge said.
Trudeau's weight-loss book describes a gruelling, 500-calorie-a-day diet, as well as hormone treatments. The deception, Guzman explained, came in Trudeau's infomercials that misrepresented the contents of the book as laying out "a simple, no hunger ... diet-free method of losing weight," which enticed more people to buy the book.
Trudeau became rich selling millions of books with titles such as "Natural Cures `They' Don't Want You to Know About" and "Debt Cures `They' Don't Want You to Know About," touting them in commercials with a news-interview formats.
As legal scrutiny intensified over the years, Trudeau claimed the U.S. government was out to get him, and he accused agencies and other vested interests of conspiring to suppress low-cost, common remedies to diseases, including cancer.
His weight-loss book, which once topped best-seller lists, was the focus of the criminal conviction for which he was sentenced. It also was the subject of related civil case brought by the Federal Trade Commission, in which Trudeau was ordered to pay a $37 million judgment.
In that civil case, Trudeau said he couldn't pay the judgment because he's broke. But FTC lawyers balked at that claim, accusing him of hiding money in shell companies. Trudeau, they noted, has spent lavishly in recent years, including $359 on two haircuts.