KANSAS CITY, Mo. - The private club is advertised as exclusive. Its promoted benefits include learning secrets of success, rubbing elbows with elite and powerful members of society and putting thousands of dollars in your pocket.
Oh, and by the way, the club’s main spokesperson is a best-selling author and infamous infomercial marketer. If you don’t know Kevin Trudeau by name, you will almost certainly recognize his face.
A 41 Action News investigation went undercover to learn about the Global Information Network. After speaking to diehard members and vocal critics of this worldwide club, the questions turned to the leader of this secret society.
Is the man who’s been accused of deceiving thousands of consumers now helping people positively change their lives? Or has Trudeau found a new way to get people in Kansas City and beyond to empty their wallets?
Kansas City man hooked by aspirations of wealth
Back in 2010, Abe Husein was watching late-night television in his Kansas City home when an infomercial grabbed his attention.
On the screen, a familiar face insisted that people have the power to have what they want in life. The man was prolific pitchman Kevin Trudeau.
“I believe they can have Aladdin’s lamp, a genie they can give a command to,” said Trudeau.
The infomercial advertised a 14-disc audio called “Your Wish is Your Command.” Husein was intrigued and decided to purchase a copy.
When the 26-year-old listened to the final CD of the program, there was a special message from Trudeau, inviting listeners to join an exclusive club.
That club was the Global Information Network (GIN). Husein checked out the website and watched a video about benefits of the club, along with a description of how members could earn income.
GIN promotes what supporters would call multi-level marketing. Some critics, however, would label the money-making system as a pyramid scheme.
Within the club, it’s known as the affiliate-building program . Essentially, get someone to join GIN, and you get a portion of the commission. Get dozens of people to join, and you are collecting thousands of dollars every month.
Husein decided it was too good of an opportunity to pass up. Before long, he paid the $1,000 cost to become a member and started forking over $150 monthly dues.
“I decided that I was going to take a huge risk in life and invest all the money I have and go all the way with GIN,” he said.
Members overlook Trudeau’s lengthy rap sheet
GIN does not make membership figures public, even to its own followers. But sources tell 41 Action News the membership ranks swelled to at least 20,000 people at its peak.
This is somewhat remarkable, especially when you consider Trudeau’s lengthy rap sheet. Among the run-ins with law and government regulators:
- In the early 90's, he served two years in prison for credit card fraud.
- In 1998, the Federal Trade Commission filed a lawsuit against Trudeau, charging him with making false and misleading claims in infomercials. A court order barred Trudeau from making false claims for products in the future and ordered him to pay $500,000 in consumer redress.
- In 2003, the FTC charged Trudeau with violating the earlier court order by falsely claiming in infomercials that a product called Coral Calcium Supreme could cure cancer. Another court order directed Trudeau to pay $2 million in consumer redress and banned him from pitching products in infomercials.
But federal regulators could not stop Trudeau from promoting his books, which are protected by free speech under the First Amendment.
Despite having no medical background, Trudeau’s “Natural Cures ‘They’ Don’t Want You to Know About” was a national best-selling book. The book, which earned significant scrutiny from the media , was hailed by some readers a savior and by others as a fraud.
Three years ago, a federal judge ordered Trudeau to pay more than $37 million for misrepresenting the content of another one of his books, “The Weight Loss Cure ‘They’ Don’t Want You to Know About.”
Husein knew about Trudeau’s controversial background when he considered joining GIN but still decided to give him the benefit of the doubt.
“He’s incredibly persuasive,” Husein said. “If you go to see him live or listen to any of his audios, he’s the best speaker I have ever heard.”
Undercover trip to GIN conference in Nashville
41 Action News, a sister station of 7NEWS, traveled to Nashville in October to attend GIN’s “Family Reunion” event, which was hosted at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel and Convention Center.
Roughly 2,000 people of all ages and locations around the world attended the conference.
Using their real names, a 41 Action News reporter and photographer signed up for GIN and registered for the Nashville event.
The three-day conference was packed with various motivational speakers. As the headliner, Trudeau received a rock star welcome each time he took the stage.
During conversations between speeches, members repeatedly told the 41 Action News employees they should join the club.
“This is the greatest thing on the planet. There is nothing like this!” said one member.
“Man, you will become your own genie. You will, literally,” insisted another member.
The sentiment about GIN was overwhelmingly positive in Nashville. Many members told 41 Action News GIN had changed their lives, though they often struggled to explain specific reasons why.
“The audios are amazing,” said one member. “They will teach you how to shake hands and clean up your house.”
Members spend thousands of dollars to improve status in club
GIN is set up in different levels, and members are constantly pushed to upgrade.
The higher the level, the more access members are told they will have to secrets of success. People wear pins on their business attire to show their status in the club.
But the cost to upgrade is not cheap. Rising from level one to level two: $1,500. It will also cost you $1,500 to jump to level three, and another $3,000 to ascend to level four.
During a Saturday banquet dinner in Nashville, dozens of new level five members paraded across the stage. For the honor, they paid $10,000.
Currently, the highest level is six, which requires an additional $25,000 to upgrade. Members say future levels are planned, but not open yet.
Lee Kenny, executive director of GIN, told 41 Action News there is no requirement for members to upgrade.
“Much as people choose to get an advanced degree to further their career, members who find benefit in GIN’s training may choose to progress to the next level of training,” Kenney said in an emailed statement.
41 Action News also spoke with several people who said they were part of the “inner circle.” That status costs $75,000.
One man said along with exclusive audios, he and other “inner circle” members get a percentage of the GIN’s net worth. However, they don’t get to see revenue figures.
“It’s not paying off well now, but it potentially could be $400,000 per year in a few years,” the man said. “It’s something you can pass to family members. I’m more or less thinking of it as an investment for my grandsons.”
Financial complaints about GIN grow
GIN’s members may surround the globe, but so does a growing list of disgruntled former members.
41 Action News reviewed more than 100 complaints about GIN filed with the FTC in the past two years.
- From Hawaii: “My friend has invested thousands of dollars in GIN and has QUIT her job because she believes she will be paid $20,000 per month.”
- From Florida: “GIN is a scam. It needs to be investigated. And people are owed their money back.”
- From Massachusetts: “Global Information Network is a Ponzi scheme of the highest order.”
- From California: “I personally have spent much of my money promoting a company that did not deliver on its promises.”
In Kansas City, Husein said he put his reputation on the line by tirelessly trying to recruit GIN members. In late 2011, he grew his network enough to qualify for a promotion GIN called the “platinum bonus.”
“Everybody was under the impression that if they were going to be platinum, they were going to be instant millionaires,” Husein said.
However, when Husein’s first check arrived, it was for $200. He had conservatively expected it to be at least $5,000.
For other members, the breaking point was a “summer sales bonanza” offered in 2010 . A promotion instructed members to upgrade, pay dues on time for 24 months, attend a quarterly event, and receive “$10,000 in cash.”
Former member Mark Uresti, who grew up in Kansas City but now lives on the West Coast, estimates he spent about $15,000 during his time in GIN.
Uresti even donated $1,000 to Trudeau’s legal fund in exchange for a small, private dinner with the GIN leader. Like Husein, Uresti was aware of Trudeau’s background, but wondered if he had changed his tune.
“He came across as very genuine. He really knows how to pay attention and focus on the very, very little details,” Uresti said.
By the time spring of 2012 arrived, Uresti was already growing skeptical about GIN. But he decided to stick it out long enough to collect his $10,000 “summer sales bonanza.”
However, Uresti and others said the check never arrived.
Instead, GIN sent an email that offered bonus recipients the opportunity to use $13,000 toward GIN marketing tools, membership upgrades, or events.
“There are people so brainwashed within the organization, they know they are getting screwed over and refuse to accept it,” said former member Mark Uresti.
In Nashville, 41 Action News tried to find someone who had received the $10,000 cash. However, everyone seemed eager to use the money as a credit toward more GIN expenses. One woman said it was a “no-brainer.”
In his emailed statement, Kenney said GIN would like to promptly address any consumer complaints.
“GIN has been a positive and transformational experience for thousands of members across the globe,” he said.
Government accuses Trudeau of contempt, wants him in prison
Meantime, the FTC is demanding Trudeau be thrown in prison for contempt, saying he has yet to pay a penny of that $37 million fine.
“Incredibly, Trudeau claims an inability to pay while at the same time orchestrating a web of domestic and off-shore entities through which he has funneled millions of dollars and maintained a lavish lifestyle,” read an excerpt of the FTC’s contempt brief.
The FTC also asserts that Trudeau assigned his wife as a nominee on some accounts (including GIN), and even laundered money through casinos to hide it from the government.
In response, Trudeau’s attorneys said he does not have any control over GIN’s finances.
Attorneys for GIN also attempted to stop a subpoena of the organization’s bank records by claiming it should have no connection to the pending litigation.
“Mr. Trudeau is not, and never has been, an owner, manager, officer or director of GIN,” the court document said.
GIN was established in St. Kitts and Nevis, a small state in the Caribbean islands. However, the main headquarters operates out of an office complex in the Chicago area.
In the legal documents , a former GIN marketing director stated that Trudeau lived in a multi-million dollar home near the Chicago office. According to the statement , Trudeau traveled on private jets, drove luxury vehicles and employed a personal chef and butler at his home.
“There is no question that Trudeau controls GIN,” the former employee stated.
Citing the pending litigation, Trudeau’s attorney, Kimball Anderson, declined to comment and said his client was unavailable because he is traveling out of the country.
The next scheduled court date for the contempt proceedings is Nov. 20.
Will GIN be investigated?
The court documents raise questions of the handling of GIN’s finances, leading some to wonder, Will GIN be investigated by authorities?
Dan Stewart, a retired federal prosecutor, looked through the court documents with 41 Action News. Because of the pending litigation, Stewart declined to make an assessment about GIN as an organization.
However, the former assistant U.S. Attorney in Missouri’s Western District talked about the “badges of fraud” investigators would look for to possibly pursue a criminal case: funneling money through multiple bank accounts, consistent consumer complaints and specific financial promises.
Stewart should know. One of his most notable cases was the “Miracle Cars” scheme of 2003. In that case, the ring leaders persuaded consumers that a wealthy man had left a huge estate with cars.
When it was over, the scheme had collected $21 million from victims that included former Chiefs’ player Neil Smith.
“Victims over the years from cases range from college kids who take out cash advances on credit cards to one of our victims in Kansas City was the owner of a Vail ski resort, who had lots of accountants and lawyers to advise him and still got taken for a significant amount of money,” said Stewart.
A spokesman with the FTC said he could not comment about GIN, adding the only time the agency makes a public statement is when it takes legal action against a person or company.
Web of criticism spreads about GIN
Husein’s Facebook page has almost transformed to a daily sounding board of criticism about his former club.
At first, Husein said his negative comments drew a lot of backlash from members. However, he said his online network of support has increased as more people have grown disillusioned with GIN.
Aside from Facebook, Husein said a site launched by another former member called gintruth.com also provides a regular forum for discussion.
There is no doubt in Husein’s mind he spent close to $30,000 and got little in return.
“I believed what (Trudeau) said. I believed he was a man of his word and would do what he said. Obviously, that was not the case,” Husein said.