Donald Trump remains in the headlines. He made a scene for his ongoing derogatory statements about women, especially to Fox News host Megyn Kelly. Just last week, major news organizations resurrected his sordid history with a multi-level marketing company, ACN, Inc., which is being tagged as a get-rich-quick pyramid scheme. Despite this negative attention, Trump maintains a strong lead in polls. Even though his appeal seems mostly to do with personality, I believe the public should be made aware that he was involved in yet another pyramid scheme, one with direct roots in naturopathic medicine.
Another Donald Trump Pyramid Scheme
In 2009, Donald Trump started The Trump Network as a multi-level marketing (MLM) company to sell nutritional supplements and weight loss products in addition to home business marketing packages designed to recruit affiliates and earn commission off their sales. The business was essentially rebranded by purchasing Ideal Health, Inc., a Massachusetts-based company that already sold health products through a vast pyramid structure.
The most effective way to profit as a member of The Trump Network was not to sell individual products, but to get others to sign up as members to sell more products and recruit more members. One could make lots of money by not selling any material products at all, but only by recruiting sellers and earning commissions off their sales.
The Federal Trade Commission has come down hard on pyramid schemes, but has run into trouble with ones that actually sell products within a pyramid-referral structure. There are differences between an MLM company and a pyramid scheme, but the distinction can be subtle and seems to depend on the proportion of revenue that comes from recruitment versus real product sales. From learning about The Trump Network, I think it is fair to consider it less of a MLM and more of a pyramid scheme.
Let’s take a look at how the Trump Network concept was advertised. On the former Trump Network website in 2009, there was a letter posted by Donald Trump himself who pitches economic opportunity for families who were suffering financially from the Great Recession:
At no time in recent history has our economy been in the state that it is today.
The economic meltdown created by Wall Street greed, financial industry ineptitude and the mortgage crisis has hijacked the dreams of millions of people. We need a new plan to achieve financial independence.
My experience in real estate has taught me that the greatest opportunities emerge when economic times are at their worst. That’s why, after the real estate crash of the 90’s, I came back stronger than ever.
The first thing I learned is that when times are tough you need to hedge your bets. You need to diversify.
The good news is: The Trump Network can provide you with a solution to help you and your family create a more secure future. Diversifying is a way to protect your income so that you can continue to do what you know and love, and still make money.
The second thing I learned is that the economy goes in cycles. When some industries fail, others take off.
For example, when the real estate industry was challenged in the early 90’s, the network marketing industry exploded. During hard times, people with an entrepreneurial spirit flock to network marketing opportunities.
That’s why I have put my name and expertise into supporting this opportunity. The team at The Trump Network have phenomenal products, provide easy to follow training and have a great support network available to all their members.
The Trump Network offers you a financial solution that you can believe in.
The Trump Network offers products that help make people healthier, an opportunity for you to make as much money as you want, based on your own efforts, and the support of a great company.
Join me in this worthwhile endeavor.
Trump positions himself as a man to dole out opportunity. He pitches directly to suffering families by casting the venture in terms of success, money, and security. Potential customers are told to join him and prosper by selling health products through “network marketing,” which is a less loaded term than “pyramid scheme.”
To be sure, let’s take a look at what The Trump Network had written on its webpage for how the compensation plan works:
There is no limit to the amount of rewards you can earn. With The Trump Network, you’re positioned for success. You earn money from the products that the people in your network purchase for personal use as well as ones they sell to their customers. In addition, you have the opportunity to receive $100 to $225 commission for each 1st level FastStart Way purchase. Plus, you can also earn Infinity Bonuses from $10 to $125 for each FastStart Way purchase in your network to unlimited levels.
Imagine if you were a Platinum and you enrolled 1 person the FastStart Way, you would earn $170. However, it doesn’t stop there. If that person enrolls someone the FastStart Way, you would earn a $70 Platinum Infinity Bonus, and if that person did the same, you would earn another $70. This continues to unlimited levels. It works the same way when you become a Diamond and Executive Diamond.
Can you imagine 10, 100, or even 1,000 people on your team living healthier, fuller lives and duplicating your efforts with The Trump Network? You could be rewarded monthly on their product purchases. This is leveraging your time and your efforts efficiently for long-term residual income. And you can feel even better because you know you are also working to build strong bodies, develop bright minds, and generate free spirits at the same time.
It’s a win/win strategy for everyone.
This herald may sound great to an economically desperate family member, yet by definition, a pyramid scheme cannot offer success to everyone in the affiliate network. The people at the top always win, and those at the bottom always lose.
It was unlikely anyone signing up for The Trump Network would be able to drum up a new, wide reach, as Trump already sat at the peak of the pyramid inherited from Ideal Health. Thus, Trump’s aims seemed to be solely to broaden his base to enhance the vertical flow of cash to himself without any real opportunity for new recruits. Is this the type of person some Americans are considering to be the next President?
Donald Trump Selling a Naturopathic Product
The company’s flagship product was a customized multi-vitamin called the PrivaTest, which supposedly relied upon a mail-in urine test to create a custom vitamin formula (about $140 for the test; $70 per month for the vitamins; $100 to retest every 6 months). In fact, Dr. Stephen Barrett began warning about Ideal Health’s PrivaTest in 2003. Because Quackwatch maintains the best description and criticism of the PrivaTest, please go there for more information. Bottom line: urine testing for customized vitamins is never a good value.
As early as 2007, Ideal Health employed a naturopath named David Macallan, ND. From Ideal Health’s homepage, one could find “Dr. Mac’s blog” and his descriptions about how Ideal Health’s products worked and the purported scientific evidence. One of his blog entries is titled “Stephen Barrett and Quackwatch – Biased and Unworthy of Credibility,” which I recommend as an entertaining rebuttal to Dr. Barrett by a naturopath with vested financial interest in a pseudoscientific product.
In 2009, just before Ideal Health became The Trump Network, it seems that David Macallan developed a weight loss program for Ideal Health called The Silhouette Solution. Macallan published a hardcover book titled The Silhouette Solution: lose the weight you want and have the silhouette you choose, which was included in the starter package of the weight loss kit, all for a whopping $1,325. The package was marketed as “a complete eight-week program that contains everything you need to achieve your short and long term weight loss goals.” This means they send you eight weeks worth of low-calorie food.
The Silhouette Solution claims that “fat will melt off your body.” Users of the Silhouette Solution are instructed to consume five packets of food called “Silhouette Staples” every day (one every 2-3 hours) in addition to a meal they create themselves using food purchased separately. To give you a sense of the bulk nutrition provided by the packets, the Cinnamon Apple Oatmeal “staple” had 150 calories, and the Mediterranean Tomato Soup had 70 calories. That amount of energy per packet does not seem like a very good value even if there are 8 weeks of these meal packets in the kit. It seems like the Silhouette Solution was a one-sized fits all diet, which is antithetical to naturopathic philosophy of always being “individualized,” “patient centered,” and “treating the whole person”.
To make money in addition to losing weight, one could purchase the $400 business kit to market the product to their friends and family, or even be entrepreneurial enough to hold community seminars or purchase television ads to recruit more sellers. In case a potential customer or network affiliate was on the fence about whether to try the Silhouette Solution, the packaged marketing materials included testimonials and before and after images of Dr. Mac himself, such as this one below taken from a widely distributed Powerpoint presentation.
It looks like the weight-loss effects seen in these photos are from old fashion sucking in the gut. You can also just barely see the “Quack Miranda” warning at the bottom of the image, but at least it’s there. Notice that these the results are shown after 90 days, which means that a Silhouette Solution customer would need to purchase an additional month of food packets, with each box of seven packets costing another $29.50. That additional month of food could cost as much as $633. Given the high price of the Silhouette Solution, I’m not surprised that customers were also eager to recruit affiliates to offset the price down the line.
As the skeptical nutritionist Janet Helm put it in 2009:
This [fake-food fad diet] is not only expensive, but an approach I certainly can’t support. You eat only one “light” meal a day and then munch on five of these packaged snacks throughout the day. Instead of an abundance of fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains — you eat BBQ Puffs, Vanilla Creme Shakes and Chocolate Delight Bars.
Legacy of a Naturopathic “Physician”?
David Macallan appears to be one of the elders of the naturopathic community. As a former BBC radio correspondent, he has made himself out to be a lead spokesperson for the naturopathic profession. He is a frequent speaker and leader of the Association of Naturopathic Physicians annual lobbying event in Washington, D.C., “DC FLI”.
In 2012, he gave a keynote address to the DC FLI attendees, in which he essentially told fellow naturopaths not to talk about “things that are internal to our profession.” He basically urged naturopaths to speak only “medicine” when promoting themselves to other physicians and lawmakers: no pseudoscience, no vitalism, no nonsense.
On the other hand, in an interview he describes that naturopaths have a free pass to say anything to patients:
Obviously with patients you have a lot of leeway. You can pretty much say to them what you like and you can have them react to you in the way that you see them witnessing the process unfold during the patient visit.
This remark is really sketchy. He goes on to reiterate his point about keeping tight lipped about pseudoscience to real doctors however:
There are certain things you just don’t talk about with physicians. You don’t talk about vis. You just don’t do that.
Vis is what naturopathic doctors call the “vital force,” a magical energy which they believe is responsible for healing.
You can listen to the whole interview below and check out Rob Cullen’s breakdown of what Macallan says.
Let me get this straight: the naturopathic profession endorses the message that NDs need to censor themselves around other health care professionals who actually know when someone is spewing bullshit, while at the same time, in clinical practice, let open the pseudoscience floodgates. I doubt any respectable medical profession would support such editorializing when speaking about evidence, practice, or education to various audiences.
Alongside his advocacy for naturopathic medicine, David Macallan continues to be active in marketing sketchy weight loss products. In 2012, Macallan was reported to be the chief medical officer of Soma Labs and Bariatrix Nutrition, both of which sell dubious looking weight loss products and nutritional supplements.
He also appears to work for MetTrimMD, which sells weight loss meal replacement plans similar to his Silhouette Solution offered through the Trump Network, but are only available to patients through their physicians. You can get an idea about the veracity of the health claims of MetTrimMD by just watching one of the many YouTube videos featuring Macallan in which he is described as a “weight loss physician”:
Yes, there is one more company graced with Macallan’s peddling: Doctors Designs. Its website claims “comprehensive weight management solutions” by using its metabolism boosters, carb controls, and cleanses.
I am under the impression that Macallan’s spokesperson services are in demand by companies that sell dubious health products, just as Donald Trump seemed to catch on to the business potential of Macallan’s Silhouette Solution. It’s like Macallan is a naturopath for hire if you have something questionable to sell. No wonder that Trump honed right in.
Donald Trump is a predatory profiteer. He is unfit to be President
Donald Trump’s foray into the naturopathic weight loss world of David Macallan came to an end in 2012 when he sold The Trump Network to Bioceutica, LLC. Trump appears to have been concerned about the liability of being associated with a MLM (a.k.a. pyramid scheme), which sold bogus products. As far as I can tell, Bioceutica is still operating and continues to sell the PrivaTest and the Silhouette Solution.
I find it telling that Trump ended up selling suspect health products, one of which was designed by a naturopathic doctor, to financially desperate families. Donald Trump is a voracious profiteer.
If Donald Trump became president, the American people can count on a lot of hyperbolic talk with very little intelligent leadership. At least one prominent naturopath might have his ear. Who knows what might happen. There’s always money to be made selling snake-oil.
Image credits 1) Gage Skidmore under a CC License. 2) Devon Crowel, all rights reserved.