CHICAGO — Best-selling author and infomercial pitchman Kevin Trudeau was held in criminal contempt Feb. 11 and threatened with jail after he urged visitors to his Web site to unleash a massive barrage of e-mails that crashed a federal judge’s computer in Chicago.
U.S. District Judge Robert W. Gettleman’s computer became hopelessly clogged with e-mails from admirers of Trudeau’s diet book and other volumes, the judge said during a hearing. Court technicians had to be called in to make his inbox usable again. Something similar happened to his BlackBerry, Gettleman said.
Gettleman has overseen Trudeau’s long-running legal battle with the Federal Trade Commission, which claims ads for Trudeau’s books offering cures for dozens of ailments — from faltering memory to hair loss — misrepresent the facts.
The judge said Trudeau’s urging the deluge of e-mails was harassment.
“The penalty I will impose will probably include some custody and a fine,” the calm, soft-spoken Gettleman said after holding Trudeau in direct criminal contempt. He ordered Trudeau to post a $50,000 bond and surrender his passport.
Gettleman said the glut of e-mails delayed court business and will force the U.S. Marshals Service to do a threat assessment.
Trudeau arrived in court voluntarily after Gettleman threatened to send marshals to bring him in. He sat silently through the hearing before being led away for fingerprinting and a mug shot.
Chief defense counsel Kimball R. Anderson told Gettleman that Trudeau had posted an apology on his Web site and urged visitors not to attempt further contact.
“I am confident this incident will not occur again,” Anderson said.
In the apology message posted on his Web site Trudeau admitted asking visitors to the site on Feb. 10 to communicate with Gettleman but added “that was a mistake.”
“It was wrong to make that request,” Trudeau’s posting said. “Please do not under any circumstances communicate with the court or the judge. I apologize for the mistake.”
In 2004, Gettleman ordered Trudeau to end the claims cited by the FTC.
Three years later, the judge held Trudeau in civil contempt for misrepresenting some of the facts in an ad for his book The Weight Loss Cure “They” Don’t Want You to Know About. Gettleman fined him $37.6 million and banned him from appearing in infomercials for the next three years.
The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the finding of contempt last August, but ordered Gettleman to recalculate the fine and reconsider the infomercial ban.
Weeks ago, Gettleman said there would be no fresh process of “discovery” — fact finding — as the court goes forward with the case. He said the previous discovery process was adequate. That apparently prompted Trudeau’s request to those who visited his Web site to tell Gettleman how much they liked his books.