A television pitchman accused of misleading viewers about his weight-loss books during his late-night infomercials could avoid jail -- for now -- because of the partial federal government shutdown.
A U.S. judge in Chicago was set to decide Friday whether to jail Kevin Trudeau, 50, for failing to pay a $37 million civil judgment. But the court agreed to delay the hearing after Federal Trade Commission attorneys said they weren't getting paid.
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To counter Trudeau's claim he's destitute and so can't pay, the FTC lawyers presented evidence he has recently spent $920 on cigars and $359 on two haircuts. After a brief stint in jail last month, they argued he still is not being forthcoming about his global assets.
Trudeau's case is one of several in the Chicago-area U.S. court system delayed by the shutdown, and courts in the other 93 federal districts around the country have faced similar delays, said Tom Bruton, the clerk for the Northern District of Illinois -- one of the nation's busiest courts. There are nearly 10,000 civil and around 1,000 criminal cases pending in the district, he said.
Delays in the Northern District also were expected because many of the some 30 prosecutors assigned to civil cases were furloughed, prosecutors' spokesman Randall Samborn said earlier this week. Criminal prosecutors stayed on the job.
A prolonged shutdown could further exacerbate delays, Bruton said. The normal flow revenue is already cut off to the Chicago-based courthouse by the shutdown. It and other districts around the country have been able to sustain near-normal operations by drawing on $400 fees paid into the system whenever someone files a new civil case, Bruton said. About 1,000 new cases a month are filed in Chicago.
"But we estimate that money to dry up by Oct. 15," Bruton said. If that happens, the chief judge must decide which courthouse operations are essential and which are not.
In Trudeau's case, Judge Robert Gettleman had already sent Trudeau to jail for a single night last month. And he warned he could order him to jail again at Friday's hearing for not full accounting for his assets.
But in a filing days before the hearing, the FTC asked for an indefinite delay until an agreement on the federal budget is resolved and the shutdown over. The judge granted the motion Wednesday.
Telephone messages seeking comment from Trudeau's lawyer, Kimball Anderson, weren't returned Thursday.
A message on FTC lawyer Michael Mora's voice mail said, "I'm unable to respond to your voice mail until the government is funded and resumes operation."
Among the other cases in Chicago citing the shutdown in requesting delays is a lawsuit by the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission against a Chicago-area financial adviser accusing him of trying to defraud his customers.
In another, a judge granted a motion by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to delay one of its pending suits. The agency cited the U.S. Anti-Deficiency Act barring payment of attorneys before Congress authorizes the money.
One defense attorney in that case, Dallas-based Ronald Manthey, said he was taking the delay in stride, for now.
"A short delay has little to no impact, but a long delay could," he said.