CHICAGO – When TV huckster Kevin Trudeau stood in a packed federal courtroom to make one final sales pitch this week, he hardly resembled the tanned, dapper figure seen hawking miracle diets and natural cancer cures on so many late-night infomercials.
After spending four months in jail for contempt of court, Trudeau’s trademark jet black coif was thin and gray. His usual tailored suit was replaced by rumpled orange jail clothes. Even his typical air of defiance had turned to contrition, a change he said washed over him during his sleepless first night in custody.
“If I ever write a book again, if I ever do another infomercial again, I promise no embellishment, no puffery and absolutely no lies,” Trudeau told U.S. District Judge Ronald Guzman on Monday in a remorseful tone. “I know going forward I will be a better person.”
But the judge wasn’t buying a word.
Moments after Trudeau’s plea for leniency, a visibly irritated Guzman sentenced the best-selling author to 10 years in prison, citing Trudeau’s decades-long history of fraud and calling him “deceitful to the core.”
“He has treated federal court orders as if they were mere suggestions … or at most impediments to be sidestepped, outmaneuvered or just ignored,” Guzman said in handing down an unusually lengthy prison term for a contempt conviction. “That type of conduct simply cannot stand.”
At the defense table, Trudeau sat back in his chair and smiled slightly as the judge announced his decision. Before he was escorted back to the lockup by U.S. deputy marshals, he turned and waved at the dozens of supporters who had packed the courtroom gallery, mouthing the words, “Thank you.”
Trudeau has been jailed since Nov. 12 when he was convicted by a federal jury of criminal contempt for lying in several infomercials about the contents of his hit book, “The Weight Loss Cure ‘They’ Don’t Want You to Know About.” Prosecutors said he ignored a previous court order by describing the program as easy when it actually called for punishing calorie restrictions and a crippling list of food restrictions.
Meanwhile, U.S. District Judge Robert Gettleman has repeatedly found Trudeau in civil contempt for failing to pay anything toward a $37.6 million fine imposed by the Federal Trade Commission in spite of continuing to live a lavish lifestyle.
On Monday, prosecutors cited Trudeau’s history of fraud, which goes back to a state conviction in 1984.
“He is a habitual liar and a fraudster,” Assistant U.S. Attorney April Perry said.
As a result of the size of the fraud and Trudeau’s two previous felony convictions, federal sentencing guidelines called for 20 to 25 years in prison, a range that Guzman said he thought was “appropriate.” However, he eventually agreed with prosecutors who said a 10-year term was sufficient since – unlike in many fraud cases – no one who bought Trudeau’s book was financially ruined.
Trudeau’s attorneys argued that prosecutors vastly inflated the amount of harm done by Trudeau’s misleading infomercials, saying many buyers were satisfied with the weight loss book.
In his lengthy statement to the court, Trudeau said he has been “completely wiped out” financially and that he and his wife, Nataliya Babenko, 26, are “effectively homeless.” He said his time at the Metropolitan Correctional Center has changed his perspective and led him to realize he had made many errors. While he wouldn’t wish incarceration on anyone, the experience has wound up being “one of the best, most positive things in my life,” Trudeau said.
But Judge Guzman was unimpressed, noting that in his three decades of fraud, Trudeau had taken on more than a dozen different aliases and even used his mother’s Social Security number to perpetrate a scam.