By Adam Kirby
CHICAGO (Reuters) - A federal jury found pitchman Kevin Trudeau guilty of criminal contempt on Tuesday for exaggerating the contents of his weight-loss book in infomercials, and he was taken into custody, prosecutors said.
Jurors took less than an hour to find Trudeau, 50, guilty of violating a 2004 federal court settlement with the Federal Trade Commission that barred him from misrepresenting the contents of his books in advertisements, said Randall Samborn, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Chicago.
Trudeau, who was jailed twice in recent months for civil contempt by a different federal judge in Chicago, faces potential prison time for the criminal contempt conviction in the trial before U.S. District Judge Ronald Guzman.
Prosecutors had argued Trudeau knowingly violated the 2004 agreement while marketing his book, "The Weight Loss Cure 'They' Don't Want You To Know About," in infomercials made in 2006 and 2007 that aired about 32,000 times.
In part, Trudeau told viewers in the infomercials that the "cure" to obesity was not a diet and did not require exercise, but the book instructed readers to walk an hour each day and to limit intake to 500 calories.
Trudeau's attorney, Thomas Kirsch, argued at trial that Trudeau's conduct did not willfully violate the court order and his statements in the infomercials were carefully couched as opinions and thus were constitutionally protected free speech.
Kirsch told jurors his client did not misrepresent the book's content or violate the agreement because everything said in the infomercials also appeared in the book.
Trudeau, whose marketing business is based in Chicago, has battled federal regulators for years over his marketing of various products to combat AIDS, hair loss, memory loss and obesity in infomercials that were ubiquitous on late-night television in the United States.
In the 2004 federal court settlement with the FTC, Trudeau agreed to pay $2 million and be banned from advertising products in infomercials. The agreement allowed infomercials for publications that did not refer to other products Trudeau was marketing and did not misrepresent the book's contents.
The FTC later asserted that Trudeau's weight-loss book had inaccurate information and violated the agreement. In 2010, U.S. District Judge Robert Gettleman ordered Trudeau to pay consumers nearly $38 million based on the books sold.
Gettleman ordered Trudeau jailed overnight in September and for six days in October for failing to pay the nearly $38 million judgment, or to account fully for his assets. Trudeau has insisted that he is broke and cannot pay the judgment.
(Reporting by Adam Kirby; Writing by Brendan O'Brien; Editing by David Bailey and Ken Wills)