CHICAGO — A federal judge has found author and infomercial pitchman Kevin Trudeau in contempt of court for failing to pay a more than $37 million fine imposed over misleading ads for one of his wildly popular weight-loss books.
Friday's ruling was the latest round in more than a decade of legal battles that began with a suit filed by the Federal Trade Commission. The regulatory agency alleged some of Trudeau's informercials included false and misleading statements about his books.
A federal judge in Chicago agreed and ordered him to stop. Then in 2007, Judge Robert Gettleman fined Trudeau $37.6 million for violating the order.
On Friday, Gettleman said Trudeau failed to pay and ordered him to transfer ownership of companies and financial accounts to a court-appointed receiver. Gettleman found him in contempt, opting not to give him jail time out of concern that those hurt by his actions would never get compensated.
He likened Trudeau to a puppet master in control of a vast network being used to keep his assets hidden and suggested that without his cooperation there would be no way to get at that money.
"Mr. Trudeau is a puppet master who has a lot of strings out there and I'm not sure he can pull those strings from jail," Gettleman said, according to WMAQ-TV.
Despite no formal medical training and several criminal convictions, Trudeau has sold millions of books offering cures for dozens of ailments, from faltering memory to hair loss. They have titles such as "The Weight Loss Cure 'They' Don't Want You to Know About," the book at the center of his latest legal trouble.
The FTC first sued Trudeau in 1998, charging that he made false and unsubstantiated claims in infomercials for hair growth, memory and weight-loss products. In 2003, the agency sued Trudeau for deceptively marketing a calcium product as a cancer cure and a product called Biotape as a pain reliever.
Trudeau paid $2 million in 2004 to settle the FTC's charges and agreed to comply with a court order banning him from infomercials except those that accurately promote books.
Three years later, the judge held Trudeau in civil contempt for misrepresenting some of the facts in an ad for his best-selling weight-loss book, namely that the diet plan was easy and allowed adherents to eat anything they wanted.
After purchasing the book, however, the FTC alleged that consumers discover it "requires severe dieting," daily injections of a prescription drug not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for weight loss and "lifelong dietary restrictions."
Trudeau's attorney, Kimball Anderson, said Friday his client wants to cooperate but does not own the companies and does not have the money.
It is not the first time Gettleman has declared Trudeau in contempt.
The judge in 2010 sentenced Trudeau to 30 days in jail and fined him $5,000 for criminal contempt after the pitchman urged his supporters to contact the judge and vouch for the benefits of his books.
Gettleman was teaching a course at Northwestern University law school in February 2010 when his BlackBerry suddenly started buzzing furiously with one e-mail after another.
His court e-mail locked up, requiring a technician to fix the problem, and the U.S. Marshal's Service had to produce a threat assessment because a few e-mails sounded threatening.
Trudeau appealed that sentence to the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals.