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The fallout barely slowed Lowe, who resurfaced about a year later with a remarkably similar sales pitch. His seminars have since boldly provided a stage for everyone from George W. Bush (post-presidency) to Goldie Hawn (post-Botox). While today's St. Louis talk boasts a slate of conservative speakers, Lowe is ambidextrous politically: Luminaries from Ben and Jerry to Walter Mondale to Kirby Puckett have cashed his seminar's checks.
Lowe has been hosting seminars since 1987, and for more than a decade, those seminars have been used to market the Investools products. A 2003 annual report from Investools' parent company, which is publicly traded, describes the arrangement as a "co-marketing partnership."
In that partnership, the report explains, Lowe hosts the seminars and bears "all the costs, including the marketing and the facilities." In exchange, Investools pays Lowe's company a percentage of revenue for all "sales made to leads sourced from these events."
As the report notes, "These events draw significant numbers of participants that the Company would not otherwise have access to." Anyway, the company concludes, the money remitted to Lowe is worth it because the "follow-up workshop, telemarketing and website renewal sales will be on higher margin products."
After a series of mergers, Investools' parent company was acquired by TD Ameritrade in June 2009. But the company is not without controversy: In 2009 the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, or the SEC, levied $3 million in penalties against the company and two salesmen, Michael Drew and Eben Miller, for securities law violations. According to the SEC's official statement, the salesmen "misleadingly portrayed themselves as expert investors who made their living trading securities. They did so to mislead investors into believing that they too would make extraordinary profits trading securities if they purchased expensive Investools instructional courses and other products and followed Investools' securities trading strategies."
In reality, the SEC alleges, "neither Drew nor Miller made the trading profits they claimed. For example, in 2005 and 2006, while Drew was portraying himself as a successful investor, he had hundreds of thousands of dollars in net trading losses. In 2006 and 2007, while Miller was portraying himself as a successful investor, he had tens of thousands of dollars in net trading losses."
Though Kittell speaks for more than an hour at Scottrade — roughly twice as long as any celebrity featured on the day's program — Investools' history doesn't even get a mention.
And he's not done. When Kittell finally reaches his rousing finish, he adds a special offer: If attendees sign up for the Wealth Magazine Investor Education program right this minute, they not only get a "free" lunch — they also get a chance to sit in on a special Q&A with Kittell.
Judging from the length of the lines to sign up — nine deep even before he finishes his spiel — at least one-third of the crowd takes him up on the offer.
In order to gain an audience with Kittell, attendees must fill out and sign a slip containing their credit-card information. By signing they agree to attend a two-day class sponsored by Wealth Magazine, for $99. They'll also get three months' use of the Investor Toolbox (Investools) website, plus another two months if they attend in early May and put it off till later in the month (a hedge, perhaps, against buyer's remorse).
Should audience members fail to cancel their Investools subscription once the three- or five-month trial period expires, their credit card will automatically be billed $39 per month. And if they fail to cancel today's $99 payment by midnight April 30 (in writing), even if they don't show up for the workshop, they will be "automatically enrolled" in an online course and billed the full $99.
At the Q&A, while audience members nosh on their slightly soggy turkey sandwiches, chocolate-chip cookies and bottled water, Kittell goes into sales mode for another 30 minutes.
Mostly he stresses the importance of not listening to naysayers.
"Any time you make the decision to move forward in your life, there are going to be negative people in your life," he says. Why, he himself asked his wife to marry him 60 times before she finally said yes — and then, once again, "she said no."
"I finally figured out what the problem is," Kittell confides. "Every time I asked her to marry me, she'd discuss it with her mother. And her mother wasn't very smart." Similarly, if you ask your friends if it's a good idea to "invest on your own," he says, "what do you think they'll say?
"Can you make a decision to at least show up?" he admonishes. "Can you say 'yes'?"
"Yes!" the lunch munchers roar.
"Ninety percent of success is simply showing up," Kittell assures them.
After lunch there's a dance competition hosted by a white hip-hopper named KJ-52, who motivates the throng of mostly white, mostly middle-aged attendees to ape Michael Jackson's opening moves in the "Thriller" music video.
"We keep 'em stuck in the '80s!" he raps along to the hit song's opening chords.
The DJ working with him echoes the chorus: "Y'all are stuck in the '80s!"
"You're stuck in the '80s," KJ-52 cries. "Make some noise real crazy!"
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