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Charles J. Givens, whose how-to-get-rich infomercials, books and motivational speeches became the focus of lawsuits and fraud investigations, has died of prostate cancer. He was 57.
Givens, built a multimillion-dollar empire in the late 1980s, writing such books as the best-selling ``Wealth Without Risk'' and becoming a fixture on cable TV. He would arrive at lectures in a chauffeur-driven, white limousine trimmed with gold. His mantra was: ``Be all you can be.'' He charged people $400 to $900 to learn his secrets of becoming wealthy.
In the 1990s, his companies were the targets of dozens of lawsuits and investigations, many of them focusing on his alleged misrepresentations and the stringent refund policy covering his instructional materials.
A California jury in 1996 said Givens defrauded 29,000 customers in that state. He was ordered to refund them $14.1 million and was ordered to stop misrepresenting the success of his moneymaking strategies.
``Givens lied about his past,'' said John W. Jeffrey, an attorney for the plaintiffs. ``The way he made his money was not by using the strategies he sold but rather by selling the strategies themselves.''
A month after the verdict in California, Givens' company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. He lost control of the business in 1997. A judge approved a plan to repay creditors 25 cents on the dollar. To protect himself from creditors, Givens transferred most of his assets to limited partnerships, frustrating lawyers who tried to collect for their clients.
Givens was born in Decatur, Ill. His father, a construction company owner, deserted the family and left them poor. In a 1989 interview, Givens said he once considered himself a ``loser'' and at 16 wrote a suicide note.
He said his life changed when he began focusing on what could go right with his life instead of what could go wrong.
He operated a music recording studio and booking agency in Nashville in the 1960s and worked in real estate in North Carolina in the 1970s.
Givens advocated dropping insurance as a way to save money. In 1993, he settled a lawsuit from a woman whose husband was killed in a head-on collision caused by an uninsured driver.
Later that year, he settled a fraud and deceptive trade practices lawsuit filed by Florida's attorney general by agreeing to refund $175,000 to 135 disgruntled customers and paying the state's investigative costs.
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