Kevin Trudeau and the First Amendment

Kevin Trudeau is a charlatan with a colorful history of interaction with the authorities. Over and over, he has been found misleading consumers via infomercials (his main method of self-promotion), but now he would have you believe that he’s just a victim of the man who is trying to take away his First Amendment right to free speech.

In the early 1990s, Trudeau pleaded guilty to larceny and did time for stealing money via consumers’ credit cards. In 1996, Trudeau had legal troubles relating to his participation in Nutrition For Life, a multi-level marketing company that was accused of being a pyramid scheme.

The Federal Trade Commission sued Trudeau over misleading claims in infomercials. Trudeau settled that action in 1998 by agreeing to pay a $500,000 fine.

In 2003, Trudeau was charged with violating that order for falsely claiming in an infomercial that Coral Calcium Supreme cures cancer. A judge issued an injunction against Kevin Trudeau, (again) banning him from making such claims. In 2004, Trudeau was found to be violating that order, and he agreed to pay $2 million to settle the case. He also agreed to a lifetime ban on promoting products other than his books using infomercials.

In 2008, a judge ruled that Trudeau violated that order, and was using infomercials to misrepresent what was in his book The Weight Loss Cure “They” Don’t Want You to Know About. The judge said that Trudeau lied to consumers in his infomercials when he claimed that the diet was easy and could be done at home (certain procedures actually needed the involvement of doctors), that dieters could eat anything they wanted (the book says foods must be 100% organic), and that his diet required no exercise (while the book says that three of the four diet phases required walking one hour per day). Kevin Trudeau was banned from appearing in infomercials for any product in which he has an interest for three years, and was ordered to pay a judgment more than $37 million (the amount believed to be Trudeau’s royalties from the book).

Despite all this, Kevin Trudeau is a victim of the government, according to him. The government is going after Trudeau for failing to pay the $37 million he owes. But Trudeau claims he doesn’t have the money! The government goes to great lengths to describe how Trudeau has hidden and moved his assets in order to avoid paying this judgment.  They say he hasn’t even tried to pay what he owes. Rather, he has been putting assets into his wife’s name, spending lavishly (while claiming that these expenditures are business expenses), and setting up an offshore trust to hold his assets.

But Kevin Trudeau would have you believe that this case is all about the First Amendment, rather than his violation of court orders and hiding his money to avoid paying fines. He claims that the government is trying to stop him from talking about “natural cures” because corporate interests (like pharmaceutical companies) don’t want him talking about things that will take money away from them.

The Cato Institute has sided with Trudeau, filing an amicus brief in support of him. The Cato Institute claims that false free speech is protected by the Constitution.

Except the ability to speak freely does not mean that one is immune from the consequences of that free speech. That means that people can be sued for false statements, can be made to pay damages resulting from false free speech, and can otherwise be penalized by the government when false free speech harms others. In this case, the false statements of Trudeau have caused consumers to be swindled out of millions of dollars, and the $37 million judgment is an attempt to recover funds for those consumers (and to persuade Kevin Trudeau to stop making false statements).

If we were to believe the arguments being advanced about Kevin Trudeau’s right to free speech, we would then have to believe that Bernie Madoff was simply exercising his right to free speech when he told people that he had a great investment opportunity for them. In fact Madoff had only an illegal pyramid scheme, and his false statements swindled people out of huge sums of money. But that was just Madoff’s free speech, wasn’t it?

The other important thing to remember in this case is that we’re not talking about one instance of speech that may or may not have been false. We are talking about Kevin Trudeau – – a charlatan that has spent more than a decade (allegedly?) swindling consumers with his books and infomercials. Repeatedly, he has been enjoined from making false claims and misleading consumers for financial gain. And repeatedly, he has violated court orders in this regard. When will Kevin Trudeau stop?

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