Midweek Cuckoo: Kevin Trudeau
In South Africa, we know Kevin Trudeau as the master of memory, peddling a promise of perfect recall. If we believe Kevin, there is no such thing as a bad memory, only an untrained one. And many people do believe him, and have his Mega Memory tapes gathering dust on their bookshelves to prove it.
But Kevin Trudeau has his finger in more than just the memory pie. It seems the variety of products he has represented is only outweighed by the variety of criminal claims against him. Kevin Trudeau, it turns out, is a huckster of note.
Depending on what he is selling, Trudeau had a very interesting early life. When he’s selling Mega Memory, he alternates between claims that he suffered from a learning disability as a child and to have cured himself, and claims that he adapted techniques used on blind and mentally challenged children. When he’s selling alternative medicine, he claims to have been diagnosed with a mitral valve defect in his heart, a supposedly debilitating condition that was eventually cured using alternative methods in Mexico. He has also claimed to have been in marketing since he was 15, and a millionaire by 18.
Naturally none of these claims has been substatiated. What can be substantiated is that Trudeau began his career as a huckster by posing as a doctor in 1990 in order to deposit $80,000 in false checks. In 1991 he pled guilty to larceny charges for this escapade, and for misappropriating for his own use the credit card numbers of customers of the memory-improvement courses he was running at the time. All told, he swindled AmEx out of $122,735.68. Trudeau spent two years in jail.
Now both con artist and ex-con, Trudeau went on to work for Nutrition for Life, a multi-level marketing scheme that sold all manner of useless rubbish like shark cartilege pills. Trudeau and Nutrition for Life ran afoul of the law in several states in the US, as well as the US Securities and Trade Commission, before eventually bankrupting themselves in 2003. But by then, they’d made Trudeau a millionaire.
Then in 1998 Trudeau was fined $500,000 by the US Federal Trade Commission, over six infomercials that the FTC had determined included false or misleading claims. The products? Eden’s Secret Nature’s Purifying Product (a body detox that supposedly restored the blood’s pH balance, and could cure illness and cause weight loss), Doctor Callahan’s Addiction Breaking System (supposedly breaks addictions such as smoking in 60 seconds), Mega Memory (claimed to give anyone a photographic memory with up to 90% improvement in just 5 days), Action Reading (successful in teaching anyone to read 100% of the time), Sable Hair Farming System (prevents, reduces or reverses hair loss, and claimed that the product would be in most of the medical journals within a few months and would end baldness in the human race), and Mega Reading (speed reading course).
In 2003 the FTC entered into a preliminary injunction with Trudeau that prohibited him from continuing to sell Coral Calcium Supreme, a calcium supplement which he claimed could cure cancer by changing the pH level of the body. In 2004, Trudeau was found in contempt of court for repeatedly violating this injunction. Later that year, he paid a settlement of $2 million to make the charges go away. The agreement that he signed with the FTC, according to their press release:
broadly bans him from appearing in, producing, or disseminating future infomercials that advertise any type of product, service, or program to the public, except for truthful infomercials for informational publications. In addition, Trudeau cannot make disease or health benefits claims for any type of product, service, or program in any advertising, including print, radio, Internet, television, and direct mail solicitations, regardless of the format and duration. Trudeau agreed to these prohibitions and to pay the FTC $2 million to settle charges that he falsely claimed that a coral calcium product can cure cancer and other serious diseases and that a purported analgesic called Biotape can permanently cure or relieve severe pain.
In 2005 Trudeau attempted to take the FTC to court over the contents of some of its press releases regarding decisions against him. Naturally, the court dismissed the case. Trudeau appealed, and was again unsuccessful. In the meantime, he has continued to advertise dubious products in blatant disregard of the settlement agreement.
Trudeau also published a fairly successful (although not as succesfful as he claims) book entitled Natural Cures “They” Don’t Want You to Know About. In it, he claims that the FDA and drug companies are conspiring to hide certain natural cures from the public, for ailments such as cancer, ADHD, arthritis, herpes and others. Despite the fact that the book’s cover implies that it actually makes specific recommendations (includes the natural cures for over 50 specific diseases!), it actually doesn’t make any mention of what these ‘cures’ are. In response to widespread criticism that the book didn’t contain what it promised, he published More Natural Cures Revealed: Previously Censored Brand Name Products That Cure Diseases. In this one, he claimed to have sat in on meetings of a “secret society” that gave him “health secrets, access to the inner circles of the rich and powerful, and the ability to live a life of luxury”. He claims to have been in over sixty countries with no stamps on his passport to prove it, to have visited Area 51 and to have seen ET bodies and craft there, and to have been privy to various documents that prove the government, food industry and BigPharma are in cahoots. Then he came out with Lose 30 Pounds in 30 Days: The Weight Loss Secret “They” Don’t Want You to Know About. I guess once he hits on a winning formula, he doesn’t let go. .
Trudeau supports some of the kookiest ideas in alternative medicine, indulges in conspiracy theories, peddles cures that don’t work, and lies repeatedly. He has made a lot of money doing this, mostly because the kind of people who look to alternative medicine will believe just about any rubbish you tell them as long as it fits their worldview. They’re not exactly known for their critical thinking. To be honest, I think if you’re the kind of person who spent money on his Mega Memory tapes, or on his Coral Calcium supplements, or on any of the other varieties of snake oil he sells, you deserve to be ripped off. To quote Michael Shermer:
There is one lesson that I gleaned from this otherwise feckless author, well expressed in an old Japanese proverb: ” Baka ni tsukeru kusuri wa nai“–“There is no medicine that cures stupidity.” Domo arigato, Mr. Trudeau
For more reading:
Infomercial watch and Quackwatch articles regarding Kevin Trudeau and the products he has supported
Salon.com article on Kevin Trudeau What Kevin Trudeau Doesn’t Want You to Know
Scientific American column by Michael Shermer Cures and Cons: Natural Scams “He” Doesn’t Want You to Know About