Kevin Trudeau, the undisputed “infomercial king,” is one of the most successful TV pitchmen of all time. He’s also a New York Times best-selling author and a motivational speaker with legions of devoted fans.
In March 2013, he was sentenced to a decade behind bars, earning a new designation: inmate No. 18046036.
Following is the wild story behind his epic rise and fall.
* * *
If you’ve never been the recipient of a “3 a.m. visit,” consider yourself lucky.
Here’s how it goes down: Typically, there will be two men, dark figures in your front doorway. They will be wearing sunglasses — odd, given the late hour — and black or navy suits. They will decline to identify themselves, preferring instead to hint broadly about the powerful, shadowy entities they represent. They will be polite and businesslike but with a faintly menacing edge in their voices that suggests things could always get rough.
Such men are found, with slight variations, in the works of Franz Kafka and George Orwell, Chris Carter and Alex Jones.
Kevin Trudeau says he got his 3 a.m. visit about a decade ago, and he will never forget it. Shortly after he published his book “Natural Cures ‘They’ Don’t Want You to Know About,” the superstar TV pitchman, best-selling author, and motivational speaker was awoken from a deep slumber. Someone was in his bedroom.
He sat up in bed. Three men stood over him. They had a message from their bosses: Cut it out. Leave it alone. Shut your mouth.
“They have been after me ever since,” Trudeau tells me ominously.
It’s a Wednesday afternoon in September, and we’re sitting in a small conference room just off the expansive visiting area of FPC Montgomery, a minimum-security prison located on the well-tended grounds of Maxwell Air Force Base, in Montgomery, Alabama, where Trudeau has resided since the spring of 2014.
That’s when the pitchman was found to have violated a consent decree by misrepresenting the contents of one of his books, “The Weight Loss Cure,” in an infomercial, drawing a 10-year prison sentence to go along with a still unpaid $US37.6 million civil judgment. For the FTC, which has been trying for more than a decade to prevent Trudeau — one of the most successful TV marketers in history — from making what it considers false health claims and otherwise duping the public, the stiff sentence represents the government’s long-sought triumph over an incorrigible fraud artist, a career criminal who is, as Judge Ronald A. Guzman put it in May, “deceitful to the very core.”
According to Michael Mora, an attorney with the FTC’s enforcement division, which is charged with going after “the hard-core repeat offenders, recidivists, the ones who just won’t quit,” Trudeau “was at the top of our list.”
Trudeau’s prominence likely sealed his fate. As his longtime friend Ed Foreman puts it, “The higher up the flagpole the monkey goes, the better you can see his rear end.”
For Trudeau and his steadfast admirers, of whom a great many remain, his conviction is simply confirmation of what he’s been warning about us for years: that “they” — a shadowy conspiracy of powerful forces, including the government, the pharmaceutical industry, and purveyors of processed food, along with a murky international cabal of power elites — are determined to silence him at all costs.
To understand not only how one of the most successful salesmen in history wound up sentenced to more time behind bars than some violent offenders but also why so many people still support him, Business Insider interviewed numerous friends, associates, and fans of Trudeau’s, and spoke to the legal authorities who pursued him for so long. We also enjoyed a lengthy in-person sit-down with Trudeau himself. What we found says as much about Americans’ own dreams of easy wealth and fantasies of dark conspiracies as it does about the former Boy Scout and altar boy who tapped into that hunger and worked it for everything he could.
Secrets And Lies
As just about everyone knows — at least, those who’ve spent any time in the past few years restlessly flipping through cable channels — Trudeau didn’t shut his mouth after getting his 3 am visit. Nor was he deterred by what he says was a subsequent attempt on his life, when his car began shaking and he discovered the lug nuts on one wheel had mysteriously been removed.
On the contrary, Trudeau kept right on spilling the beans. He published “More Natural ‘Cures’ Revealed,” “Free Money ‘They’ Don’t Want You To Know About,” “The Weight Loss Cure ‘They’ Don’t Want You To Know About,” “Debt Cures ‘They’ Don’t Want You to Know About,” and “Debt Cures II ‘They’ Really Don’t Want You to Know About.” Trudeau believes he has sold as many as 50 million books worldwide — not an unreasonable estimate. His blockbuster, “Natural Cures,” was a publishing phenomenon, spending 25 weeks on the New York Times best-seller list, and the latest edition claims “Over 6 million copies sold.”
Along the way, he started an international pool tour, which imploded in 2008, costing Trudeau about $US13 million, according to one insider. And he peddled a supposedly surefire system for winning at baccarat that the source says brought in well over $US1 million, but likely cost consumers far more in gambling losses.
In 2009, Trudeau pivoted again, becoming a self-help guru in the Tony Robbins mould with a 14-CD set titled “Your Wish Is Your Command,” supposedly taped at a secret location in the Swiss Alps. Billed as a comprehensive guide to success, it was based on the principles Trudeau said he’d learned during his tenure in a secret society called “the Brotherhood,” which supposedly included many of the world’s richest and most powerful people.
Soon, he started a brotherhood of his own, but one open to all — an “exclusive, private, membership-only club” dubbed the Global Intelligence Network, or GIN.
At once, a membership organisation, designed to offer access to numerous motivational speakers for a monthly subscription fee, and a multilevel marketing company, GIN was set up with the assistance of a “council” made up of 30 billionaires and other powerful figures, Trudeau claimed. Though the council remained anonymous, the organisation attracted more than 30,000 members at its peak and brought in millions of dollars a month. It has since been taken over by a court-appointed receiver and sold to several of Trudeau’s former associates for $US200,000 plus a portion of membership fees, the proceeds going toward the $US37.6 million civil judgment against Trudeau. GIN still exists, though several sources told Business Insider that the company is the subject of an ongoing FBI investigation.
The FBI did not acknowledge calls seeking comment.
Trudeau On Ice
Trudeau has it pretty good on the inside, all things considered. FPC Montgomery is one of the jewels of the federal prison system. A home to white-collar convicts and other low-risk offenders, it’s a minimum-security facility. Situated on a working Air Force base, the prison has no guard towers, ribbons of razor wire, or clanging steel doors. It’s just a set of buildings within a gracious and impeccably landscaped military compound that also includes a golf course, a shooting range, and several greenhouses.
Trudeau’s room, he says, is “more like a barracks or dorm than a cell.” He sleeps in a top bunk, since the lower bunks are generally reserved “for the older guys.”
Among his fellow inmates are the former Illinois congressman Jesse Jackson Jr., several mayors, and Jeffrey Skilling, the former CEO of Enron, whom Trudeau calls “a nice guy,” adding, “Like everyone here, he’s just looking to do his time and go home.”
Movies are screened nightly, and there are TVs everywhere, including one flat-screen housed in an outdoor gazebo. Although some of Trudeau’s old infomercials still air frequently and are often spotted by his fellow inmates — a source of some excitement — he mostly steers clear of TV, preferring to read, he says. (Empowerment tomes are his preferred genre.)
Trudeau works in the prison kitchen, a sometimes frustrating experience for a guy who has done as much as anyone to bring the organic-food revolution to a mainstream audience. “They have a greenhouse and a bakery, and yet everything is canned!” he says incredulously. “Why not let inmates make their own food and learn a valuable trade?”
As for his own extremely valuable trade — motivational speaking — he says he’s been forbidden from doing education on any real scale. “People ask my advice and I give it, but that’s it,” he says.
Sitting behind a Formica conference table, one leg crossed casually over the other, Trudeau is wearing a custodial-green button down over a brown T-shirt, and slacks, all crisply ironed. His simple digital wristwatch is a comedown from the luxury timepieces he once favoured (“It’s a Rolex!” he jokes), but it does the job.
He’s in good shape for 51, lean and well-tanned, with a touch of sunburn on his nose and cheekbones, a walking advertisement for those natural cures he touts.
The only somewhat discordant note is his hair. Silvery and fluffy under a green baseball cap, it flares out over his ears for a clownish, almost Wonkaesque effect.
“I said he looks like a 1960s hippie with that hair!” says Mary Miller, a close friend and the proprietor of ichingsystems.net, who visited Trudeau in prison not long ago.
“I told him to cut it and get himself cleaned up and look like the leader he is,” says Foreman who also made the trek to Montgomery.
Trudeau says he just felt like trying something new. “In the business I’m in, you have to be presentable all the time,” he says cheerfully. “This is my first opportunity to try growing it out.”
It looks pretty silly now, but a year down the road, Trudeau may come to resemble a classic guru, the sort you might encounter in a New Yorker cartoon set on a Himalayan mountaintop — just in time for what he expects will be a triumphant release.
That is, if things go his way on appeal.
Repairing his reputation will take more than a new hairstyle, though. The legal troubles have done irreparable damage to an extraordinary if long-checkered career. Convincing the pubic you hold the secrets of success even as you’re doing hard time is quite a feat, even for a salesman of Trudeau’s impressive talent.
It’s a frustrating situation, especially when he compares his public profile to that of Steve Jobs, for example, still a beloved figure despite his cutthroat methods.
“This amazing businessman and visionary? He was a complete arsehole,” Trudeau says. “Bill Gates? These guys may be brilliant, but they are fucking ruthless!” Trudeau’s eyes, which at less tense moments tend to light up with enthusiasm, are bulging from their sockets. “Or take Joel Osteen,” he goes on. “Seems like a nice guy right? But who knows what goes on behind the scenes? That’s what matters.”
The Almost Eagle Scout
Kevin Trudeau grew up in Lynn, Massachusetts, a former mill town, the eldest child of a welder and a homemaker.
These days, he prefers not to speak too much about his childhood. Asked to relate his first memory, he offers an odd response: “Which life?” he asks with a broad smile, hinting that he has been reincarnated a few times.
I suggest we start with one he’s living now.
“Everyone has a past,” Trudeau says with a wave of his hand. “Everyone has issues. But why go into it? What good can it possibly do? It’s the past. I believe in the future.”
In his books and lectures, Trudeau has at times been more forthcoming about his upbringing and how it shaped him. In “More Natural ‘Cures’ Revealed,” for instance, he writes, “Maybe the fact that I was adopted as an infant, or maybe because I was a fat kid, or maybe because I wore glasses and was ‘four eyes,’ or maybe because we lived at the outskirts of town, all could have played a part in my personality development.”
Trudeau was into magic as a kid, and doing tricks for nursing homes and birthday parties seems to have provided one of his first tastes of public speaking. As just about every adolescent who has mastered the disappearing-milk trick or cut-and-restored rope can attest, magic can be a uniquely empowering hobby, particularly for an insecure adolescent: The ability to hoodwink peers and even adults can be intoxicating. For Trudeau, magic may also have been an early initiation into the power of secret information.
He was, it seems, a highly accomplished youngster: At his local parish, he served as an altar boy and, as young as age 9, an organist. An honour student, he played baseball and football in high school, and was voted “most likely to succeed.” He was a boy scout — though he never quite made it to Eagle — and president of the Junior Clowns of America.
Meanwhile, Trudeau was embarking on a business career.
Fred Van Liew, a longtime Trudeau mentor, met the then 15-year-old Trudeau at an Amway meeting outside Boston in the late 1970s and was immediately struck by the boy’s drive. “He got his parents to co-sign and latched on right away,” recalls Van Liew, now the CEO of eWater Emporium, which sells “appetite control mugs,” harmonic e-crystals, and other devices. “You don’t get a lot of kids in Amway, but Kevin was running with the big boys already.”
As Van Liew remembers, Trudeau was less interested in building a big Amway business — by signing up new members and building his “downline” of commissions — than in understanding how the whole operation, one of the first MLMs, or multilevel marketing companies, actually worked.
In those days, Trudeau was also conducting what Van Liew calls “his various experiments.” Having stumbled on the classified sections in the back of the National Inquirer and other supermarket tabloids, Trudeau had been astonished by the ads he found there — offers of advice, healing, or fortune-telling from afar, in exchange for money sent to a P.O. Box. He decided to run a few ads himself “just to see who would respond,” Van Liew remembers. “Then he’d give answers and see how they responded to the answers.”
Though Trudeau had no special knowledge to impart to these desperate strangers, Van Liew sees the youthful diversion not as a scam but as part of Trudeau’s ongoing studies into the mysteries of human success. “This was research,” he says. “He could have gotten a grant if he’d been doing it with a college. But he did it himself, on a shoestring. He learned what motivates people and what they respond to.”
It was also perfectly legal, Van Liew says, adding that when money began pouring in, Trudeau called him to ask about donating it to a local preacher in Texas.
“My memory of those days is rather weak!” Trudeau responded by email when asked about the ads. “Any stories you hear I am sure have been told and retold so many times they have morphed and changed from the facts and reality to myths and legends! LOL.”
Trudeau’s brushes with authority began early. In “More Natural Cures Revealed,” he tells the story of receiving IQ and aptitude tests in high school. He writes that he breezed through the three-hour IQ test in under an hour, but the aptitude test — designed to determine a possible career path — irritated him so much that he bubbled in D for every multiple-choice answer and dashed from the building. “I hopped in my 1967 Firebird convertible to enjoy my freedom from the classroom.” Later, he was called to a meeting with the school’s guidance counselor, who told him, in earshot of his fellow students, “You’re a loser, and you’re always going to be a loser.”
“I tried to put on a cocky ‘I could care less’ smile,” Trudeau writes. “I don’t think I fooled anyone. I turned around and walked out of the room. I distinctly remember mumbling to myself, ‘You’re going to eat those words, baby. You’re going to eat those words.'”
A few years later, Trudeau continues, he arrived for dinner at the Baytower Room, a pricey Boston restaurant. He had traded in his Firebird for a new Lincoln Continental and was wearing a $US25,000 Rolex and an Armani suit. “When I pulled up to have my car valeted, you can imagine my surprise when one of the valets was my old guidance counselor … I had a great dinner that night!”
It’s a telling anecdote. According to numerous associates, much of Trudeau’s ambition seems to be driven by the need to overcome feelings of self-doubt. “I think he wants to impress people so much that he overcompensates,” says Kristine Dorow, who dated Trudeau for years and was married to him briefly, in 2007. “There’s some deep insecurity he is trying to cover over.”
“Insecurity drove everything,” says Peter Wink, who worked with Trudeau for three years doing direct mail and marketing and has since cooperated with various government authorities who are investigating Trudeau’s business practices. “He was always striving to show people that he was a success. But it was a big facade. Like I told the FBI, he’s not the antichrist that some people think he is. He just has a complex about striving for success so hard that he ends up pushing the line.”
Trudeau admits as much in “More Natural Cures Revealed”: “The only way I imagined I could overcome my low self-esteem, self-doubts and feelings of unworthiness,” he writes, “was to achieve huge financial success.”
After learning he had aced the school’s intelligence test, he decided to try for admission to MENSA, a membership group for people with high IQs. On the first go-around, he panicked, fearing that he wouldn’t score highly enough to be admitted. “For some unknown reason, this horrified me and depressed me beyond comprehension,” he admits in the book. “I could not face failure and rejection.”
He signed up to take the test again, and this time, he writes, he aced it in a fraction of the allotted time — by cheating. He then boasted about it to the administrator. “If you can’t figure out how I cheated,” he told the man, “that means that I’m smarter than you and I deserve to be admitted.”
MENSA apparently didn’t agree.
After high school, Trudeau found work at an auto dealership, where, Van Liew says, he soon became the No. 1 salesman by eagerly chatting up the customers whom his colleagues stereotyped as window shoppers and cheapskates. “The other guys would say, ‘This guy’s a loser,’ but Kevin didn’t do that. And he’d sell them car.”
He also became adept at pushing auto loans. “He would tell people, ‘Save your credit with your bank in case you need it for something else,'” Van Liew recalls. “Was it the best advice? No. Was he doing it to get you the best deal? Hell no. He was in it for profit and money! He knew most people are idiots.” Still, like many friends and associates we spoke to, while Van Liew is up front about Trudeau’s ethical shortcomings, he nonetheless praises him as a fundamentally good-hearted person: “When Kevin found someone in genuine need or who was ready to move forward, he’d help.”
Foreman, who has also known Trudeau for decades and considers himself a mentor, was an oilman and former US congressman when he met a young Kevin Trudeau, also in the late ’70s.
He remembers him as an “enthusiastic, attractive, heads-up wanting-to-learn-type fella.”
At the time, Foreman, who ran a concrete and gravel company, had developed a training program for his employees that numerous corporations sought to emulate. Under contract to Ford, he began heading motivational sessions for dealerships around the country. Trudeau heard him speak in Boston, and then traveled to Texas to attend a three-day “Success Life Course.” The message was “happy, positive, constructive thoughts bring about constructive productive results,” Foreman says. “Kevin took to that quite well.”
Trudeau’s various forays into self-help also brought him considerable success with the opposite sex. “He was not the most handsome guy in the world,” Van Liew recalls. “He had a little pudge. He couldn’t drive yet. But he sure had a way with women! They glommed all over him. He once told me, ‘I bought all the books on how to talk to a woman. Everyone buys the books but they don’t read ’em. I read ’em and I believed them. I did what they said. And it worked.’
“He learned how to make every person in the room, male or female, feel special,” Van Liew adds.
In the early 1990s, Trudeau’s ambition got the better of him. In 1990, he passed $US80,000 in fraudulent checks and even claimed to be a doctor to hoodwink bank officials. The following year, he pleaded guilty to credit-card fraud, having applied for a number of accounts using various Social Security numbers and charged more than $US100,000.
In the latter instance, while admitting to the fraud, Trudeau insists that he paid off the bills right on schedule. The problem, he says, was that a few late payments on his own account had resulted in a bad credit rating, leaving him little choice but to open a cards under other names to get over a financial rough patch.
“I remember seeing him after that,” Foreman says. “He said, ‘I got a little too ambitious. I took some actions I shouldn’t have taken.'”
These days, Trudeau does not deny he made a mistake, but he floats a more sinister explanation. At the time, he had been contemplating a career in politics. “I think a group of people had an interest in making sure I wasn’t a viable candidate,” he explains.
Not to say they forced him to commit fraud, exactly. But maybe they gave him a little push. “There are different ways to influence someone,” he says. “There’s the physical realm, and there’s the energetic realm. Not to say I didn’t make the choice to use those Social Security numbers. I take full responsibility for that. But let’s just say the circumstances sort of nudged me in that direction.”
As a Massachusetts judge contemplated a sentence in the case, Trudeau’s mother offered another, more plausible theory for what motivated the lapse. In her view, Kevin’s trouble all stemmed from his accidental discovery as an adolescent that he had been adopted. In a heartfelt letter written in a neat longhand, Mary Trudeau offered a catalogue of her son’s many achievements as a teenager and spoke of his erstwhile dream of attending Harvard Medical School.
The Trudeaus had always planned to tell their adopted sons the truth when they turned 21, but a cousin accidentally let the news slip the summer before Kevin’s senior year in high school, she said. (A court-appointed psychiatrist placed the revelation a few years earlier, when Trudeau was 12.)
“Well, we started to see a big change in Kevin,” Mary wrote, “from honour student to no work … He graduated but had a new attitude. I knew he was hurting inside, because all his goals were gone.”
Trudeau opted to skip college and start his own business, in Chicago. His fierce drive was still there, but his mother could sense something was wrong. “He was trying to prove something, I believe, to himself,” she wrote. “He seemed like he was starting to lose his identity.” In her view, her son “thought he was a nobody, and he was trying to become a somebody.”
“My mother feels that it was her fault I found out the way I did and that it had a negative effect on me,” he says. “I really don’t think it did.” Asked how he felt when he heard the news, he offers one word: “neutral,” he mutters placidly. Trudeau eventually sought out and met his birth mother, an experience he also describes as “neutral.”
While secrecy was common for adoptive families in previous decades, experts in adoption now advocate openness as away of avoiding precisely the scenario Mary Trudeau described to the court. “It’s a very disrupting experience,” says David Brodzinsky, Ph.D., author of “Being Adopted: The Lifelong Search for Self” and the founding director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute. “It can lead to the complete undermining of the foundation of who you are. It’s a betrayal of trust by the perhaps the two people you’ve counted on all your life to be trustworthy.”
The ultimate conspiracy, in other words. The deep secret “they” don’t want you to know about.
Brodzinsky emphasises that he has never met Trudeau and would never presume to analyse him. But despite the pitchman’s demurrals, the psychotherapist thinks it’s plausible that “questions about self-worth” might lead him to “overcompensate by seeking wealth, becoming self-centered, and allowing himself to take shortcuts in the way he promoted things, without consideration for the impact on others.”
The experience may also have shaped a certain conspiracy-minded way of viewing the world and a deep-seated mistrust of authority figures.
“Certainly his life was based upon a big lie, and he may well have generalized in a way that our government is lying as well,” Brodzinsky notes.
Trudeau drew a two-year sentence for the credit-card fraud. But according to his friend Fred Van Liew, he made out pretty well behind bars. Using his free time to investigate his roots, he discovered that his birth mother was Jewish. Religion seems to have been somewhat beside the point, however. “He looked up the law and found that if you’re Jewish they have to provide kosher food,” Van Liew recalls with a chuckle. “Nobody was doing it, and the staff didn’t have time. So they said, ‘You do it,’ and put him in charge of ordering!” Naturally, Trudeau ordered the best, including lobster (which is definitely not kosher). “That’s how stupid the people were!” Van Liew says. “Before long, all kinds of inmates were becoming Jewish.”
Trudeau denies the tale now. “I think he is thinking about the movie ‘Goodfellas,’ and getting the story mixed up as people do,” he writes in an email. Trudeau confirms he is Jewish by birth, adding, “I do keep kosher while in prison, and do order kosher food from the commissary for my own consumption.” As for his spiritual beliefs, however, he declines to discuss them. “These are private matters between myself and God,” he explains.
Trudeau says his involvement with an organisation he calls the Brotherhood began earlier, when he was in his 20s, although he believes the group’s agents were watching him for years before making their initial approach in an inconspicuous location: a local bowling alley.
Looking back, he explains in “More Natural Cures Revealed,” he can see why they targeted him. “I fit a certain ‘profile,'” he writes. “Being adopted, needing to prove myself, obsessive desire to make money, no real family attachments, high IQ, willing to bend or even break the rules, all put me in a category of being an excellent candidate.”
The deal was simple. “They wanted to use my talents and abilities for their purposes of increasing their own billions and their own power, control, and influence over the masses,” Trudeau writes, “and in exchange, I would receive health secrets, access to the inner circles of the rich and powerful, and the ability to live a life of luxury.”
Members of the group, he writes, include “politicians, captains of industry, news journalists, celebrities, musicians, writers, scientists, law enforcement officials, movie stars, and more.”
He didn’t have to think about it for long:
“Not accepting would mean a life of meritocracy, financial struggles, and unfulfillment. It was simply an offer I couldn’t refuse.”
Trudeau says that his time in the Brotherhood spanned 20 years, offering him a rare look at how the wealthy and powerful manipulate the rest of us to serve their own ends.
He claims to have visited factories “where food is being genetically modified and manufactured with the sole purpose of making people fatter” and to have been tutored in the use of “secret brainwashing techniques developed by the CIA that are being used in the news media and in advertisements for certain products.”
At one point, he was even granted access to Area 51, where “working spacecraft and dead alien bodies” are housed. “I’ve seen these things with my own two eyes,” he insists in the book.
In exchange, he performed certain tasks he declines to name, saying merely, “I was used in covert operations around the world … I was virtually on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” all while making “hundreds of millions of dollars.”
Eventually, he writes, his conscience began to weigh on him. Having sworn a vow of secrecy, he made the difficult decision to betray his erstwhile brothers and blow the whistle.
“I have seen the light,” he writes in “More Natural Cures Revealed.” “I was on the dark side doing evil; now I have repented, changed my ways, and turned my life around. I regret and am very sorry for all of the bad things I have done in my life. Now I am going against the masters that I once served. I am telling people the truth about Big Pharma, the food industry, the oil industry, governments, and the media.”
If you believe his story, it’s no real stretch to imagine that the Brotherhood has now taken its revenge by helping to put Trudeau in prison. Which makes it all the more surprising that he continues to protect their identities.
“Why not name names?” I ask him.
“In due time,” he says with a smile.
A Master Salesman
Even as he remained on call for this secret society, Trudeau embarked on a remarkable second career in business.
In prison, he’d met a man named Jules Lieb, who was doing time for distribution of cocaine. After their release, the two went into business together, starting a company called Trudeau Marketing Group and joining a multilevel nutrition supplements company called Nutrition for Life. Employing the knowledge he’d acquired at Amway, Trudeau quickly became the company’s most successful recruiter ever, doubling business in just a year, according to The New York Times. But his aggressive sales techniques, which involved making extravagant promises about the potential income recruits could expect, drew the attention of law enforcement, and in 1996, the Illinois attorney general filed a complaint accusing Trudeau and Lieb of operating an illegal pyramid scheme. As part of a settlement, Trudeau paid a total of $US185,000 to Illinois and seven other states.
Shortly thereafter Trudeau took his skills as a salesman — he prefers the term “communicator” — to television, where infomercials had begun to proliferate following President Reagan’s deregulation of the TV industry. Trudeau embraced the opportunity and soon aligned himself with a variety of questionable products. There was his own Mega Memory training program; the Sable Hair-Farming System (which he promised would “end hair loss in the human race”); Dr. Callahan’s Addiction-Breaking System (which he said could break the user of any addiction in 60 seconds “virtually 100 per cent of the time”); Howard Berg’s Mega Reading speed-reading program, the Perfect Lift Non-Surgical Face Lift, and Eden’s Secret Nature’s Purifying Product. There were magnetic toe rings and magnetic mattress pads, crocodile protein peptide, and Biotape, an adhesive tape said to relieve pain by reestablishing broken electrical connections in the body.
Trudeau was a master of the form. In all, he estimates he marketed more than 50 products and made more than 1,000 infomercials, of which maybe a third actually made it through the testing stage and onto the air. “I believe I have actually been on TV more than anyone else in the world, including Tony Robbins,” he says.
Thomas Haire, editor-in-chief of Response magazine, a trade journal covering the direct-response industry, calls Trudeau a trailblazer. “He was one of the earliest guys out there,” Haire says. “He comes off very well on TV, very believable, very earnest. He pioneered various styles — the interview style, the talk-show format.”
That’s not to say Haire approves of Trudeau’s methods. In fact, he is incredulous that Trudeau’s infomercials are still airing despite his conviction. “You’re not going to see those ads unless they’re working,” Haire admits. But he says Trudeau’s ongoing TV appearances are damaging the industry. “It’s about the optics and the image of the business,” he says. “You don’t want the carnival barker, shyster-type of image out there, the idea that our products don’t do what we say they do. It just continues to give an unnecessary black eye to the business.”
In 1998, Trudeau’s infomercials drew a lawsuit from the FTC. Trudeau paid a $US500,000 settlement and vowed not to make any claims about the benefits of a product unless he could produce “competent and reliable evidence.”
But in the eyes of the FTC, the fraud continued. In 2003, the federal government again sued Trudeau for deceptive marketing based on his pitch for Coral Calcium Supreme, which Trudeau said had been proven effective for a variety of ailments, including cancer, multiple sclerosis, and heart disease. After the FTC asked the court to hold him in contempt for violating the ’98 injunction, Trudeau agreed to pay $US2 million and stop selling products or services in infomercials altogether.
“We got an order against him in 1998, and that didn’t stop him,” says the FTC’s Michael Mora, who has been involved with the case since 2009. “The one in 2003 goes about as far as we can ever get, which is banning somebody from the whole medium of infomercials — a flat prohibition on that form of advertising — and that still didn’t stop him.”
One exception remained. Trudeau was still allowed to market books. The contents of a book are protected by the First Amendment, no matter how ludicrous its claims might seem. And Trudeau was allowed not only to publish books but to tout them in infomercials, as long as he didn’t misrepresent their contents.
“Well, he drove a truck through that exemption,” Mora says.
Up Close And Personal
Trudeau had always been popular with women, back to his days studying dating manuals. He has been married at least three times (a number he declined to confirm). His current wife, Nataliya Babenko, who is now legally running several of his former companies, was just 22 and studying film at New York University when they tied the knot in 2008. (She is now back in her home country, Ukraine, Trudeau says.)
According to one former girlfriend, however, the pattern of duplicity that has come to define his business dealings was a characteristic of his personal life as well.
A native of Norway, Dorow was a 20-year-old college student studying German at University College of London when she first met Trudeau in 2000. One afternoon, she was sitting in the restaurant of the Sanderson Hotel waiting for a friend. Trudeau walked by and gave her a look, then did it again and again.
“Finally he came over to talk to me and swept me off my feet,” she recalls. “He was very charismatic, very charming and romantic.” She emailed him a few months later and he invited her to California for a visit. She took him up on the offer without even bothering to tell her parents about the trip.
The Ojai house was like nothing she’d ever seen before. “Oh my god, it was absolutely crazy,” she says. “I don’t even know how to describe it. It was like a palace, with gold everywhere and a giant chandelier hanging from the ceiling. Kevin and I have completely different tastes. I’m modern, and his is very ‘red velvet hanging in drapes from the ceiling.’ But even though I hate to admit, I was really impressed by the luxury.
“Whatever he did was to the fullest,” Dorow adds. “Everything was very perfect, almost to the point where it was a little bit scary. This pristine, almost ‘to-good-to-be-true’ environment. Like there’s a grand piano playing by itself.”
Dorow recalls Trudeau talking about marriage almost immediately. “He said he was totally in love. ‘I can’t believe this is happening to me. You’re the only thing I need now.’ I was like, ‘Wow, I’m so lucky.'”
Shortly after that visit, Dorow quit school and moved to California at Trudeau’s suggestion. “My friends thought I was crazy,” she says. “They thought I was going to get killed.”
Despite the excitement of their whirlwind courtship, Trudeau’s travel schedule meant that Dorow was often left on her own in one or the other of his massive homes.
Their relationship was tempestuous. At one point, Dorow discovered he was already married, to a Ukrainian native named Oleksandra Polozhentseva. Furious and eager to make him jealous, Dorow went on a date another man — not just any guy, either, but the singer Lionel Richie, whom she’d met on a flight. She told Trudeau about it, and the gambit seemed to work. “Kevin became very possessive.”
Kevin promised to get a divorce, and he and Dorow tied the knot in November 2007, having dated for six years. She says their prenup obligated her to reach a certain level in Scientology, which Trudeau has dabbled in over the years.
A few months after the wedding, however, they got in a fight, and Trudeau announced he’d be going on their honeymoon, a cruise, without her.
Trudeau declined to answer questions about his relationships, deeming them “too personal and not relevant.”
Eventually, Dorow says, she discovered airline tickets for Natalya Babenko, now his wife, that indicated Trudeau had invited her to take the cruise in Kristine’s place. As betrayed as she felt, by this point, such indiscretions no longer surprised her. “I guess it was fair, because he took me on [Oleksandra’s] honeymoon to Cabo San Lucas,” she recalls. “That was pretty weird, because there was a card on the bed with some chocolate that said, you know, ‘Congratulations to Kevin and Alex!'”
Trudeau and Dorow’s marriage was annulled after four months. “After I left him he got really difficult,” she says. “He said he would make life hell for me. It was like, if he couldn’t have me, he didn’t want me to be happy. He took everything away from me. I had not a dollar left in my bank account. He basically sat down and calculated every penny he had ever spent on plane tickets and this and that and said I swindled and defrauded him out of that money and he wants it back.”
Dorow wound up living alone in a rough section of Los Angeles, largely penniless and too embarrassed to ask her parents for help. “In the end, I really didn’t know what was true,” she says. “I didn’t know if I could trust my own thoughts — everything I had thought before was so wrong. It was a really tough time.”
Now back on her feet and in a committed relationship, she admits to having tender feelings toward Trudeau. “It’s love-hate,” she says. In fact, they saw each other not long ago and partly reconciled. “I actually agree with a lot of the things that he believes,” she says. “I love the natural cures. I don’t agree with his method of selling things. It’s indoctrination. But do I think he deserves 10 years in jail for it? Hell no. I have a lot of personal issues against Kevin, but he was my first love. I feel bad for him.”
A Miracle Diet
Trudeau wrote and advertised “Natural Cures” without incident. He submitted infomercials to the FTC for review, and they were deemed acceptable for broadcast.
It was his next book, “The Weight Loss Cure,” that ran into trouble. Published in 2007, the book is based in part on Simeons’ protocol, a technique developed by a British doctor in the 1950s, which supposedly resets the hypothalamus, allowing the patient to lose weight. Trudeau himself gave it a try at a clinic in Germany, and he swore by it.
Among other things, the “cure” — which includes an array of dos and don’ts spread over four stages — requires the subject to limit him or herself to 500 calories per day for a period; walk for an hour a day; receive regular liver, parasite, heavy metal, and colon cleanses, and take daily doses of coral calcium. He or she is also advised to avoid air-conditioning and fluorescent lighting, microwaved food, over-the-counter medications, prescription medications, fast food, and food from national chains. Most important, the subject must receive regular injections of human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), a hormone found in the human placenta. hCG is essential to Simeons’ protocol, though in the US it can be taken only with a prescription.
Matt Dubiel began working with Trudeau in 2008 as the general manager of the KT Radio Network. At the time, the 5-foot-7 audio engineer weighed 240 pounds. He sought Trudeau’s advice, and his boss hooked him up with a doctor who could prescribe hCG. Dubiel did a modified version of the cure for 30 days, including the 500-calorie diet, the injections, and the cleanses.
“Dude, it changed my life,” he affirms. Even more important than losing 35 pounds was the effect it had on his overall health.
“I was getting to the point where I had heartburn every day,” Dubiel recalls. “Doctors wanted me to be on blood thinners and statins and Prevacid. My medical doctors never said, ‘Get on a treadmill, cut carbs, get healthy.’ They always went to pharmaceuticals first.”
After a break of six to eight months, Dubiel repeated the diet and lost another 35 pounds. (It’s worth noting that he no longer has a business relationship with Trudeau, and says he would be reluctant to work with him again.)
The problem was that, in the eyes of the FTC, and later the US attorney’s office, the infomercials for “The Weight Loss Cure” flagrantly misrepresented the contents of the book. For instance, according to court documents filed by the agency, Trudeau claimed in an infomercial “that the protocol can be completed ‘at home’ and that ‘you don’t have to go to a clinic to do it.’ But the book instructs that all hCG injections must be administered under a physician’s supervision and that trips to a licensed colon therapist for colonics are required.”
Moreover, the infomercials didn’t mention hCG at all, at least not by name. They did, however, make note of “a miracle, all-natural substance” and claim that “you can get it anywhere.”
At one point, Trudeau even insisted that the protocol was “not a diet, not an exercise program, not portion control, not calorie counting” and said it involved “no crazy portions, powder or pills.” According to the FTC, such assertions were “outright” lies.
Much was also made of Trudeau’s assertion in the infomercial that the cure was “easy.” At one point, he even described it as “the easiest [weight-loss] method known on Planet Earth.” He also claimed that subjects can eat “everything they want, anytime they want,” adding, “Last night I had pot roast, mashed potatoes, sour cream, tons of butter, and a hot fudge sundae!”
In another instance, he insisted that after the protocol one can consume anything and not gain weight. “So, what can you eat?” he said. “How about pizza, pasta, fettuccine Alfredo. Real stuff, not diet crap. I’m talking real food.”
Asked during our interview whether his language in the infomercials crossed the line, Trudeau insists he did nothing wrong. “I offered my opinion. That’s protected speech.”
But even Dubiel, a firm believer in the diet, thinks Trudeau’s statements were a considerable exaggeration. “It’s not easy,” he says. “The word choice is the problem. You know what, nothing is easy. And at the same time, everything is easy.”
Throughout the lengthy court proceedings, Trudeau aggressively defended himself to his supporters in videos, in public appearances, and on social media. In court, however, he was more reticent. Taking the stand in the civil trial in May 2013, he invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination 390 times. In the subsequent criminal trial, he opted not to testify at all.
In the end, a jury took 45 minutes to convict Trudeau of criminal contempt for misrepresenting “The Weight Loss Cure” in his infomercials. The brief deliberation was seen by the prosecution as evidence that the case was cut and dried. To Trudeau’s supporters, however, it proved the fix was in.
Why didn’t Trudeau, whom even Mora calls “incredibly talented” and “a great communicator,” take the stand in his own defence? He’d been planning on it, he says, and he believes his testimony would have swayed the jury. “But the night before, I had a vision, a really strong feeling that said not to testify,” he tells me. “It was a very powerful feeling. I believe everything happens for a reason, and maybe I had to draw this sentence in order to have a greater impact, to help let the world know about the threat the government poses to personal freedom.”
When he finally wins his freedom, Trudeau adds, “It will be a huge story around the world.” He draws a lesson from the life of Nelson Mandela. Trudeau has taken flak for comparing himself to various civil-rights figures in the past, and he is careful not to do so now. But he says he learned from Mandela’s story that “the road isn’t always straight,” he says. “Mandela was trying to destroy apartheid, and he did. But he had to go to prison for 27 years to do it.”
The Mercy Of The Court
On March 12, 2014, Trudeau sat down at a typewriter and did something he rarely does. He begged for mercy.
Writing in the exceedingly polite, sheepish tone of a man who knows he’s run out of rope, he addressed Judge Robert Gettleman, the federal judge for the Northern District of Illinois, who had earlier found Trudeau guilty of civil contempt — imposing a $US37.6 million fine and then referring his case for criminal prosecution — and he poured out his heart.
“I am desperate,” he wrote. “I have been humbled beyond imagination.”
Taking “100% responsibility” for his predicament, he added, “I have seen where I must change and be a better person. I have the deepest most sincere regret and remorse.” Publicly apologizing to Judge Gettleman, the FTC and the US attorney’s office, he said that he was “sorry from the bottom of my heart.”
“I see now that I have made many mistakes along the way,” he continued. “I have learned my lesson in more ways and at more levels than you can ever know … This experience has shaken me to my core.”
Critically for Trudeau, at this point his fate was no longer in Judge Gettleman’s hands — a fact for which the defence team bore responsibility. Although Gettleman had handled the FTC’s civil case against Trudeau for years, had seemed remarkably indulgent of Trudeau’s stalling tactics, and had ruled that the case would be a bench trial, which limited the sentence to six months, Trudeau’s lawyers had accused him of bias and demanded that a new judge be assigned to the criminal trial. Though he pointedly rejected the accusation, Gettleman had used his power as a senior judge to reassign the case to a colleague, Judge Ronald Guzman.
The move backfired on Trudeau. Guzman promptly ruled that the case merited a jury trial, removing the sentencing limitation.
“We mounted a very aggressive legal case,” Trudeau says now. “Was it too aggressive? I don’t know. Hindsight is 20-20. Maybe there were certain decisions that could have been made differently. We thought, ‘Six months! That’s ridiculous! That’s insane! For stating my opinion?’ So we decided to fight.”
Had he not opted to challenge Gettleman, Trudeau would theoretically be a free man by now.
Guzman, it soon transpired, wasn’t kidding around. And while the 10-year sentence strikes many observers as overly harsh, others consider it an appropriate punishment given the long career of questionable dealings, a little like Scorsese winning his first Oscar for “The Departed” after getting passed over for so many other brilliant movies.
“Kevin got a very vindictive and offended judge who decided to lay the wood to him,” says Ed Foreman, who attended the sentencing and was removed from the courtroom after an impassioned outburst on Trudeau’s behalf. “[Guzman] took a dislike to Kevin and thought, ‘I’m going to show you, you smart-arse.'”
Trudeau’s letter was a Hail Mary, an attempt to persuade Gettleman, by far the more amenable of the two, to nudge his colleague. “I am asking (praying) that you would consider interceding in some way with Judge Guzman on my behalf,” he wrote.
The ploy didn’t work.
“He has treated federal court orders as if they were mere suggestions … or at most impediments to be sidestepped, outmaneuvered, or just ignored,” Judge Guzman said, handing down the sentence.
“It was too late,” Foreman says. “It’s like as you’re being spanked telling your daddy, ‘I’m sorry I did that. I won’t do it again.’ ‘Sorry son, I’m already spanking you.’ His apology was not as convincing as it might have been.” Trudeau was sentenced to 10 years, not a bad deal considering that federal sentencing guidelines called for 20 to 25 in light of his previous felony convictions.
“We think that sends a very strong message of deterrence to other would-be Trudeaus,” Mora says.
Now, having spent a few months doing hard time — or what passes for it in FPC Montgomery, one of the most comfortable minimum-security facilities in the federal prison system — Trudeau sounds considerably less contrite.
“Put yourself in my position,” he tells me when I ask about the letter of apology. “Where was I? I was in MCC [the Metropolitan Correctional Center], in jail. I was facing a possible life sentence. Was I humbled? Sure. I had just realised the government could actually put you in jail for exercising your First Amendment rights, just because they object you something you said. That’s pretty humbling!”
Naturally, the FDA sees the matter differently. “He convinced through deception upwards of 800,000 people that he had this cure, a weight-loss plan in his book that made it easy, and you could do it without medical supervision, and without a very restrictive diet,” Mora says. “None of that was true. That’s pretty egregious.”
Perhaps, but as Trudeau and his supporters are quick to point out, his legal team provided numerous testimonials by consumers who said “The Weight Loss Cure” helped them. The government, by contrast, never produced a single witness who claimed they’d been wronged. As Mora notes, however, doing so simply wasn’t necessary. “All we had to prove and did prove was that he violated the order,” he explains. “In FTC cases, if you lie about something that’s material to consumers in deciding whether or not to purchase goods or services, the harm is presumed, because consumers have parted with their money to purchase it based on lies.”
Following The Money
Even with Trudeau in prison for criminal contempt, there was still the matter of a $US37.6 million civil judgment, which had yet to be paid. The money would go toward creating a fund to reimburse anyone who decided they’d been cheated after paying $US30 for “The Weight Loss Cure” based on misrepresentations Trudeau made in his infomercials. The fine was imposed in 2010 and has yet to be paid despite Trudeau’s being held in contempt several times for his noncompliance.
In theory, even this considerable sum should have been affordable. As far back as the mid-1990s, Trudeau claimed in his promotional materials that he had a net worth of more than $US200 million. While it’s impossible to say just how much money Trudeau made over the years, Thomas Haire of Response magazine says that pitchmen of his calibre can command as much as 20% of the revenue they generate in sales for a given product. Since Trudeau often promoted his own companies, the take was likely even higher. “His product sales over the years had to reach 10 figures,” Haire says. “He’s a guy who definitely could have made a billion dollars in this industry.”
Trudeau’s associates scoff at the idea. “No way — not even close,” says one.
And Trudeau maintains he’s virtually penniless.
“There is no money!” he says, insisting that all he has left is a couple of suitcases full of clothes. Even gifts from his parents and from his wife, Nataliya Babenko, were sold off by the receiver.
At one point, he even told Judge Gettleman he’d be willing to be waterboarded to prove he’s come clean about his assets.
“I never accumulated wealth,” he insists. “I was never interested in that. Did I live a luxurious lifestyle? Sure. Did I enjoy flying in the Concorde and on private jets? Staying in $US10,000-a-night penthouses? Living in multimillion-dollar homes? Driving Rolls Royces and Ferraris? Sure. Do I like good restaurants? Absolutely. But I eventually realised that those things don’t make you happy.”
“He lived quite well,” Foreman admits. “Kevin is someone that knows how to generate money. He had a nice place in Ojai, he lived in a nice place in Chicago, and he traveled first class. But you know, his life has been easy come easy go. He makes millions and he spends millions.”
A good bit of that money — $US5 million — went to pay a specialist in asset protection, Mark Lane, who court records show helped him set up more than two-dozen business entities in Belize, Nevis, Switzerland, Hong Kong, Mauritius, the Isle of Man, Panama, the Cook Islands, and the Seychelles — places where money can be squirreled away beyond the reach of the US government.
One Trudeau company, Natural Cures Holding, which Mora says generated “tens of millions of dollars” over the years, was sold to a former business associate based in UK for just $US100,000, a fraction of its value.
Other companies were transferred to Babenko, Trudeau’s Ukraine-born wife, despite a notable lack of business experience.
The government also cited emails from Trudeau to various associates indicating a plan to hide his wealth: “gin MUST get money out of the usa and into banks overseas,” he wrote in one email, referencing the Global Information Network, which was bringing in millions of dollars per month — “never keep more money in the usa than needed… every company NEEDS accounts OFF SHORE!!!!!!!!!!!!”
Meanwhile, there were questionable transactions at various casinos — apparent attempts to launder money, captured by security cameras — and eyebrow-raising purchases of gold bars.
So far, Trudeau’s efforts appear to have been successful. “We don’t know what we don’t know,” Mora admits. “If you want to, and have a professional to help you, you can move assets offshore in a way that can’t be discovered.”
Asked what he thought of the damning emails, Foreman laughs. “That’s kind of like, ‘Tomorrow morning something’s going to happen, so make sure I got enough money to get cognac or cigars.’ I don’t think it was any real conniving.”
Trudeau friend Frederick Van Liew admits the pitchman may have intentionally attempted to shield his assets from the government, and for good reason. “Do I believe that with his intelligence that he’d do anything different than any other politician or wealthy person does?” Van Liew asks hypothetically. “They don’t have the money in their name. If it’s not in your name and it’s not under your control, is it your asset? You get to enjoy the benefits but have neither ownership nor direct control. There are legal instruments to do that. These are the vehicles that the government has set up, that the world elites have set up.”
As Trudeau himself put it in an extraordinarily candid interview with ABC’s The Lookout, “I’m certainly not going to start a company in my own name. It’d be dumb.” Setting up a friend or family member in business, however, might be a smart strategy. “There’s nothing wrong with that, nothing illegal about it, and guess what?” he told Bill Weir, “It’s not my asset.”
“Let’s not be hypocrites,” he adds. “It’s what you do!”
Billionaire Boys’ Club
The government appointed receiver has had some limited success in getting the FTC its $US37 million.
Earlier this year, the receiver sold Trudeau’s Ojai, California, residence, and its contents at auction. Among the items on offer were a signed print of Rush Limbaugh by artist LeRoy Neiman, a grand player piano, bronze candelabras and crystal chandeliers, several humidors, a formidable collection of Swarovski crystal figurines, and a signed photograph of The Three Stooges.
Trudeau’s well-appointed home in Chicago was also sold.
Another valuable asset in his portfolio was the Global Information Network (GIN), the multilevel marketing company he launched in 2009, even as he was actively litigating the FTC’s civil suit. The group was set up with the help, he claimed, of a council of 30 of the world’s most powerful people, who had decided to bring the secrets of the Brotherhood to a mainstream audience. Among this advisory council, the website boasted, were “a former prime minister … members of various royal families, a former president of a major country, generals, billionaires, tycoons, industrialists, politicians, a current Supreme Court judge, major media moguls, and several celebrities you would know by name.”
In a video pitching the club, Trudeau claimed that the Council was “all billionaires from around the world.”
At its inception, GIN was a rather innovative business. For a monthly fee of $US150, members would have regular access to a variety of motivational speakers around the country, along with cruises and other events. As with similar self-help organisations, participants were aggressively pushed to increase their involvement, paying thousands of dollars in fees as they moved from one level to the next. The material itself was far from groundbreaking — much of it, in fact, was quite transparently borrowed from authors like Rhonda Byrne and Napoleon Hill — but many people found it invaluable. Numerous GIN members Business Insider spoke with praised the seminars and credited the organisation with changing their lives for the better.
Denis La Rochelle, a financial consultant in Calgary, Alberta, says he spent about $US20,000 over several years on GIN, and while he later began to doubt Trudeau’s honesty, he has no doubts about GIN’s positive effects. “It changed my kids’ lives, it changed me,” he says. “A lot of people that were depressive or suicidal — it gave them hope. Because all of the sudden they learned about how the psyche operated.” He offers the example of Sohail Quereshi, a former aspiring jihadi with a computer-science degree from the University of Calgary, who credited Trudeau’s CD series “Your Wish Is Your Command” — which has since been uploaded to YouTube — and a GIN seminar with turning his life around.
Another fan, Neville Christensen, put many thousands into GIN, an investment he still considers “the best money I could ever spend to educate myself.”
But a year or two after it launched, GIN members began to notice a shift. As the group turned into an MLM, its emphasis changed from helping members improve their lives to selling them on a get-rich-quick scheme — what was known as the “affiliate” program. Members were told they could profit by finding new recruits, and many worked hard to do so.
Here’s how it worked: New members generally paid an introductory fee, which generally cost $US1,000, as well as $US150 per month. If a member, let’s call him Sam, had 10 “active” members in his downline — meaning that each one had been paying monthly dues for a set period — Sam received a payment. If the 10 members in Sam’s downline each recruited a member of their own, Sam would be eligible to receive a “platinum bonus” that, it was promised, could reach many thousands per month.
Members in the so-called Inner Circle, the organisation’s top tier, which cost $US75,000 to join, were told they could earn even more.
One ambitious GIN member, Abe Husein, who has since co-operated with authorities and denounced GIN to various media outlets, admits he went so far as to invent a collection of fake members and pay their monthly $US150 dues himself in order to build his downline and receive the promised reward.
He concedes doing so was a violation of the rules, but GIN encouraged shortcuts. One official promotion, called the Lazy Man, would let Sam add a preexisting member to his downline by simply paying $US500 — an offering that became so popular, according to multiple sources, that even after raising the price to $US750, GIN sold off more of these unattached members than actually existed. “It was printing money,” recalls Peter Wink, who handled marketing for the group.
Another opportunity allowed members to purchase “hot leads” — contact information for supposedly solid prospects — from the organisation itself. Never mind that some of these emails belonged to people who’d simply purchased “Natural Cures” and had expressed no interest in GIN whatsoever.
The scheme was lucrative, at least for the organisation. According to the receiver’s report, GIN generated more than $US100 million since it was formed in 2009.
“Bad people took over and made it what it is now, an absolute greed machine,” says one longtime Trudeau insider. “GIN was going to be Kevin’s magnum opus, the culmination of everything he was going to teach people. The first two years were great. But when some of his friends who are lifetime MLM people got involved and said, ‘Let’s take this to the next level.’ That’s when it derailed. It started with the best intentions and then greed seeped in.”
Meanwhile, GIN’s educational offerings became less attractive. In May 2012, Trudeau announced a change: Communicating via video to GIN’s numerous speakers, he told them that GIN would be suspending its program of seminars and other live events, because of the spiraling costs of speaker fees, production, and travel.
In addition, it seems, the live events were becoming marketing free-for-alls in which the speakers were eagerly selling GIN members on products and services of their own, and using the events to build their mailing lists.
To Trudeau this amounted to a betrayal. Some of the speakers, he explained, have “come in like a piranha, like a shark, and tried to rape, pillage, and steal from every GIN member and extract every dollar they can … put it in their own pocket and not even consider offering us some type of compensation back.”
GIN would be entering “our next phase,” he said: building an archive of taped courses on a variety of subjects, including “how to buy real estate with no money down, how to set up offshore trusts, offshore bank accounts, offshore corporations, asset protection, tax efficiencies, how to be a speaker … sales techniques, health, nutrition, cooking, etiquette, poker, baccarat, craps,” and the like.
The programming would be presented as if it were taped live, he explained, complete with “15-minute breaks” during which the camera would capture an empty podium to offer the illusion of a real event. (In light of this suggestion, I it’s hard not to wonder CD series ‘Your Wish Is Your Command” was actually recorded during a live seminar in the Swiss Alps, as claimed. When I put the question directly, Trudeau responds that “some parts” were “retaped in the studio.”)
As for GIN’s new direction, Trudeau seemed to understand that a number of speakers would be unhappy with the changes.
Giving an enthusiastic sales pitch to keep his instructors in the fold, he pointed out that of the members who joined two years before, 80% were still on board and paying those monthly dues. According to “some computer models,” he added, GIN might well grow to more than 10 million members in the next decade.
“Twenty or 30 years from now when we’re all gone away,” he said, “I think there’s going to be statues erected to us for what we’re doing and the impact we’re having on society. But I would really encourage you to think about the big picture in the long term and not just about how many shekels and dollars go in your pocket in the short term.”
At some point in December 2013, shortly after the court-appointed receiver took control of GIN, a short message appeared on the club’s website. “According to the information gathered by the Receiver of The Global Information Network,” it read, “the entity referred to as the GIN Council does not exist.”
The Council, the 30 billionaires, royals and other elites, whom Trudeau claimed had helped him found the Global Information Network, was a fantasy — or so the government said.
The news was not a surprise to the company’s insiders, who had long suspected Trudeau had made the whole thing up. “[A colleague] and I used to joke about it,” Peter Wink recalls. “‘Are you the Council? I’m not the Council!’ We know who the Council is — it’s one person.“
“Everyone knew it was bullshit,” says another insider. “I’m surprised anybody believed it was true.”
Some members felt betrayed, h however. “I think it’s unethical,” says Denis La Rochelle. “People in GIN thought someday they would meet these people. It was presented like it was for real. I have a problem with that. I really do.”
“Who the hell cares [if the Council exists]?” counters Fred Van Liew. “The question is, Did you or did you not get the finest training that ever altered your life?”
Ed Foreman likens the GIN Council to the techniques of author Napoleon Hill, one of the first success gurus, who in his 1937 book, “Think and Grow Rich,” described his habit of convening imaginary meetings of famous historical figures, which he called a “Cabinet of Invisible Counselors.” Hill’s cabinet included Napoleon, Darwin, Emerson, Jesus, Aristotle, and Voltaire. After studying their lives in depth, he imagined seeking their advice.
The difference, of course, is that Hill always described his counseling sessions as “purely fictional.”
In retrospect, many Trudeau fans also began to doubt the existence of the Brotherhood, the shadowy secret society that he said approached him in a bowling alley in the mid-1980s with an offer he couldn’t refuse.
Asked if he believes in the Brotherhood, Foreman laughs.
“Kevin has a great imagination,” he tells me. “Kevin is a great storyteller, a great weaver of emotion. And sometimes parents tell wonderful fairy tales to their children because the children will pay attention and improve their thoughts and activities, and sometimes perhaps Kevin has operated right along that edge.”
As a veteran of the motivational speaking circuit himself, Foreman says he understands the impulse.
People need to be inspired. They need faith. And this may be the central paradox of Kevin Trudeau’s story. Yes, he lied about his book and probably a lot of other things. He sold a bill of goods. He created a pastiche of well-worn motivational bromides and sold it as new. He made promises he could never hope to fulfil. He peddled conspiracy theories and manipulated gullible people. He got very, very rich doing it, and then he scrambled to place his money beyond the reach of the government.
And yet, he also helped thousands of people. Many of them still testify to his positive influence. Hundreds have donated to his legal defence. And while there is good reason to wonder about Trudeau’s honesty, there’s no real basis for doubting the sincerity of his devotees. In November, an associate of Trudeau’s sent out an email on Kevin’s behalf urging supporters to contact Business Insider “sharing positive information about their experience with me, my books, CDs, etc. And if you could get others to do the same, that would be wonderful! (get as many other people as you can, the more the better!!).”
In all, 35 responded, not the hundreds or thousands Trudeau confidently predicted would flood my inbox, but not a bad showing under the circumstances.
Motivation is a delicate and mysterious thing, as Trudeau learned decades ago when he published those ads in the back of the National Inquirer. We know belief can heal us. It can give us incredible strength. It can help us overcome life’s obstacles.
But it can’t be bottled or put under a microscope or cross-examined on a witness stand. It’s a trick of the mind, and sometimes persuading a person to do what’s in their best interest — losing weight, finding a new career, finally taking control their lives — requires a little manipulation, a little sleight of hand.
Who really cares, then, that there’s no “easy” way to lose weight, that shedding pounds requires diet, exercise, and hard-nosed discipline, as the FTC’s Michael Mora insists. Or that the miracle drug hCG, a byproduct of the human placenta, may not doesn’t do anything at all when injected into the body. Or that coral calcium doesn’t cure cancer.
And so what if there’s no “secret” to becoming rich but rather there’s a whole insidious system in place, rigged against the middle class and the poor, which will only be changed when a solid majority of people stop dreaming of instant wealth, quit shuffling one another into “downlines,” and work together to rewrite the tax code and overturn the campaign finance system.
It may be reality but it sure isn’t inspirational.
If the truth is really so banal, so grey, so disempowering, maybe a little fantasy is just what the doctor ordered.
As Foreman puts it, “Don’t tell me there’s not a Santa Claus. Because there is a Santa Claus if you believe … It’s what you believe that matters, and Kevin helped people believe.
“Dreams are the stuff of progress,” Foreman continues. “If you can dream it and you can imagine it and believe it, you will do it. That’s how America was built. On a dream. It was built on hope. If you can’t dream, baby, you can’t succeed.”
This balance is summed up nicely by Trudeau himself in that videotaped message to the GIN speakers. After calling them piranhas and sharks, out for their own gain, he concludes on a more positive note, harking back to his very first exposure to the world of self-empowerment, a lecture by a legendary Amway super-salesman named Dexter Yager.
It happened in 1979, in a meeting room in the Sheraton in Newton, Massachusetts.
“I had never heard a motivational speaker,” Trudeau recalls in the video. “I’d never heard a positive message. I’d never heard the stories from [motivational speaker] Zig Zigler or Ed Foreman. I heard this guy speak, and he changed my life because I never heard positive in my life. I never heard, ‘You can do it.’ I never heard, ‘You were born to win. You were designed for accomplishment. You were engineered with success and you were endowed with the seeds of greatness.’ I never heard anybody say that. And when that person said that, oh my God, the effect it had on me. And I thank God every day for that seminar, that meeting that opened my eyes.”
He continues, “We have to remember that we’re doing that to people every single day … It’s not about selling something, it’s not about making money, it’s not about ‘How good I am and how much are people going to love me?’ It’s what impact are we having on somebody’s heart, their mind, their thoughts, their emotions. And how we’re affecting their whole future.”
It is, he adds, “a magnificent responsibility.”
NOW WATCH: Briefing videos
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.