The Rise and Fall of Don Lapre, Doug Grant, and
"The Greatest Vitamin in the World"

Timothy Quill, M.D.
Stephen Barrett, M.D.

Don Lapre was a fast-talking character who sold "get rich" opportunities for many years. His infomercials described how, while living in a "tiny one-bedroom apartment, "he became a millionaire by placing hundreds of "tiny little ads" in newspapers. Doug Grant claimed to be a "nutritionist" with vast experience in advising people about health and fitness. In 2003, they teamed up to promote "The Greatest Vitamin in the World," which Grant reportedly formulated and Lapre marketed through infomercials and Web sites for about fou years. In 2009, Grant was convicted of manslaughter related to his wife's death and sentenced to five years in prison. In 2011, in connection with his Greatest Vitamin program marketing, Lapre was charged with conspiracy, mail fraud, wire fraud, and money laundering and committed suicide two days before his scheduled trial was to begin. This article examines how this program was marketed and explains why their advice should have been ignored.

Lapre's Background

Phoenix, Arizona-based Don Lapre was easily recognizable with his youthful good looks and exaggerated mannerisms. He reaped many millions of dollars doing business under a long list of company names, but in 1999, he filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. In 2000, the Phoenix New Times published a lengthy investigative report [1] that revealed the following:

Don Lapre and a 1998 depiction of his "Making Money Secrets" package

Many former Lapre customers posted descriptions of their experience with the "Making Money" package. We could not find a single person who reported making a profit. Most lost hundreds or thousands of dollars. Some reported never selling a single item or receiving a single call from a prospective customer. In 1999, the Better Business Bureau of Central & Northern Arizona warned:

In video tapes about New Strategies and Don Lapre's life and financial success, the company repeatedly suggests that $50,000 per month or more is easily attainable for anyone, with little effort and no experience required, simply by following Don's instructions for starting a business with 900 phone numbers.

The 30-minute infomercial called Making Money offers a package of the same name for $40 (formerly $79.95). Purchasers are called back with another sales presentation designed to get them to buy various lines, (psychic, sports, chat and date) for a cost in the neighborhood of $850. This sale may be followed by yet another call offering television advertising for the phone lines.

Though New Strategies offers a 30-day money back guarantee, the Bureau has received complaints alleging delays in both delivery of the product and refunds to those who returned the merchandise. Other complainants have expressed dissatisfaction with the program, stating that it was misrepresented during the sale and that earnings turned out to be not as represented. Significant additional costs are reportedly not told to prospective customers up front. . . .

The Bureau advises extreme caution when dealing with this company and urges consumers who have not received their refunds in accordance with the advertised money back guarantee to contact the television station which aired the New Strategies program [2].

Following the 1999 bankruptcy filing, the assets of Lapre's businesses were purchased and used to form Universal Business Strategies under the stewardship of Joseph H. Deihl. The new owners continued to air the same Lapre infomercials, continued his tradition of fleecing customers, and quickly earned an unsatisfactory Better Business Bureau rating [3]. In 2000, Lapre himself publicly denounced the new company as unethical on his now-defunct www.donlapre.com. Another of Deihl's endeavors, Karemor International, Inc. had an unsatisfactory BBB record and ran into problems with the Arizona Attorney General. As noted in a BBB report:

On March 28, 2002, The Attorney General of the State of Arizona and respondent Karemor International, Inc. and Joseph A. Deihl agree to the entry of an Assurance of Discontinuance pursuant to the Arizona Consumer Fraud Act. The Attorney General alleges that respondents marketed various products through a multi-level marketing plan. Respondents enticed consumers to join the Marketing Plan by representing it "provides long-term monthly residual income." Respondents enrolled consumers in the marketing plan who became "Sales Associates" after purchasing one of two Packages which included marketing materials and a selection of Respondents' products. In order to receive the benefit of Respondents' commission structure, the Sales Associate was required to enroll in Respondents' AutoShip Plan which authorized Respondents' to ship products to the Sales Associates on a monthly basis and automatically deduct monies from their bank or credit card accounts to pay for the products. Respondents failed to adequately advise consumers that by enrolling in the AutoShip Plan, they were committing themselves to accept Respondents' products for a minimum of 6 months and were giving Respondents the authority to issue an account draft each month to pay for the products. Respondents continued the drafts despite being notified by Sales Associates that they did not want the products. Additionally, Respondents refused to accept returned products from Sales Associates who were not interested in continuing with the AutoShip Program. Respondents' marketing materials contained false promises and misrepresentations, including the omission of material facts which is a violation of the Arizona Consumer Fraud Act. Respondents are prohibited from misrepresenting earnings, making statements relating to compensation or commissions received by a participant without disclosing the percentage of participants who have received such compensation and automatically issuing account drafts unless an appropriate disclosure is made to consumers in the same place as the authorization to allow such drafts. Respondents shall refund consumers who have filed a complaint with the State of Arizona, have not received commissions equal to or in excess of the amount paid to Respondents and have not already received a refund or chargeback. . . . [4]

Yet another of Deihl's companies, Regency Medical Research, not only earned an unsatisfactory BBB rating but was also ordered to stop making illegal claims its potassium iodide spray product would protect against the development of thyroid cancer if nuclear disaster strikes [5].

By 2000, Lapre's "Making Money" package was tapped out. Lapre had considered marketing nutritional supplements as early as 1997, so he approached Doug Grant, a "natural" vitamin peddler, for help in developing one. Grant soon formulated a supposedly revolutionary vitamin product. Never known for understatement, Lapre decided to name the product The Greatest Vitamin in the World. His new company, Torica, LLC, began operations in Phoenix in January 2003. A new Don Lapre infomercial soon followed, featuring "The Greatest Vitamin" and Lapre boasting, that "Nothing like this has ever been seen before in the history of the world!" Unlike his previous infomercials, the editing and backgrounds were cheap with lots of repetition.

Grant's Background

In addition to working with Lapre, Doug Grant has been associated with at least three other companies: Optimal Health Systems, Infinity2, and VitaQuest International.

Optimal Health Systems, which Grant founded, markets its own brand of dietary supplements and operates a retail outlet in Mesa, Arizona. According to the company's Web site site:

In 1989, twenty-three year old Douglas Grant was involved in a terrible accident that landed him in a rehab center and left him wondering if he would ever walk again. Driven to find answers, Doug realized that many people claimed to posses the miracle formula for health, but reliable, effective principles were often overlooked or overshadowed by clouds of misinformation.

What began as a personal search for health has resulted in a complete recovery and return to the pinnacle of fitness for Doug, including a Gold Medal victory in the World Power Lifting Championships. Doug's passion to find accurate answers for health also motivated him to receive a degree in nutrition and five professional trainer certifications. Most of all, the knowledge Doug discovered on his quest has driven him to share true health with others by presenting his message on radio, television and in print. Doug also used his knowledge to create a health and nutrition company that has brought health to numerous individuals throughout the world. The resulting company, Optimal Health Systems, is the culmination of over ten years of work with more than 5,000 health professionals, countless personal trainers, and hundreds of thousands of individuals from every walk of life.

Along the way, Doug has surrounded himself with experts in their own right, with a Professional Advisory Council of doctors, and with writers, researchers, managers, sales staff, and customer service representatives who share his beliefs and determination. Each individual has their own story of how applying proper principles has led to optimal health. Together, they are committed to further the OHS mission: To raise the standard of health and fitness by providing superior systems of extraordinary service, motivational support, and customized Nutrition, Exercise, and Specific Supplementation; creating for every individual, the expectation and ability to achieve optimal health [6].

The source of Grant's nutrition credential is not stated in the biographical sketches I found online, but I did find one site which stated that it came from American Holistic College of Nutrition. This entity was a nonaccredited correspondence school that taught fringe methods and had no recognized academic standing. (In 1997, it and a sister school were merged to become the Clayton College of Natural Health, which also was not accredited.)

Optimal Health's products include Complete Nutrition [7], which is said to contain "the most absorbed, utilized form of whole food vitamins, minerals, stabilized probiotics and plant enzymes," [8] Opti-Cleanse [9], "the most unique and effective formula for cleansing the bowel and removing unwanted toxins and healthy metals," Optimal Acute, which "rejuvenates the body's natural healing process, and Opti-Care [10], the "ultimate 'digestive repair formula.'"

Infinity2 was a multilevel company headquartered in Scottsdale, Arizona. During the mid-1990s, company publications described him as "a nutritionist by degree, with postgraduate wok in sports medicine, rehabilitation, and fitness training . . . . a Certified Nutritional Microscopist and nationally licensed phlebotomist." [11] During this period, he was identified as the formulator of Infinity2 products, company president, director of health services, and directory of the company's professional advisory council. The company's leading product was a digestive enzyme capsule promoted with a videotape in which Grant warned that "enzyme deficiencies" were a serious problem that should be solved by taking the product. In its early days, Infinity2's professional division signed up professionals (mostly chiropractors) who used live-cell analysis to persuade patients that they needed supplements. This procedure, which is bogus, is carried out by placing a drop of blood from the patient's fingertip on a microscope slide under a glass cover slip to keep it from quickly drying out. The slide is viewed at high magnification with a dark-field microscope that forwards the image to a television monitor. Both practitioner and patient can then see the blood cells, which appear as dark bodies outlined in white. The Infinity2 distributor would record what happened to a videotape that featured Grant pontificating about "enzyme deficiencies" and why the company's products were needed [12]. Infinity2 no longer appears to be operating as a company but the Optimal Health Systems site promotes "phase contrast microscopy" as a motivational tool.

VitaQuest International was a multilevel company headquartered in Mesa, Arizona. The company's Web site portrayed Grant as a "prime mover" who developed its "F.I.T.N.E.S.S in a Box," a product with five components:

  1. Digestion formula with Enzymes and Probiotics, said to be "the most advanced and complete formula available to restore the body's enzyme supply and intestinal flora."
  2. Whole Food Vitamin Mineral Formula with Amino Acid Chelates ("provides the safest, most effective whole food vitamins and chelated minerals and contains the widest array of powerful antioxidants on the market today")
  3. Microhydrin®, said to be "the most powerful antioxidant available today. . . . contains . . . hydrogen-enhanced silicate material, a compound of silica and hydrogen atoms modified to contain a loosely bound extra electron."
  4. Crystal Energy®, described as a "catalytic liquid" said to "enhance the physical properties of your drinking water," "help rid the body of toxins and free radicals," and give water "a better opportunity to enter . . . and hydrate the cell."
  5. Metabolism Formula with Chromium and Garlic, said to "help support the body to digest fat, maintain blood sugar levels, and help regulate cholesterol."

The VitaQuest site stated that "F.I.T.N.E.S.S in a Box was endorsed by the National Basketball Conditioning Coaches Association (NBCCA). NBCCA was formed in 1992 and had 16 members identified on its Web site. In 2004, Grant appeared to maintain the site, which he registered in May 2003 on behalf of Optimal Health Systems. The site had little other information and sold candy bars.

We don't believe that any of Grant's products can live up to the claims made for them. It is also interesting to note if the claims were true, they would contradict Lapre's claim that The Greatest Vitamin in the World is the best and most complete supplement product that money can buy.

In July 2005, Grant was charged with first-degee murder. According to newspaper reports, in September 2000, Grant reported that he had found his wife, Faylene Eaves Grant, unconscious in a bathtub located in their home in Gilbert, Arizona. After she was pronounced dead, an autopsy determined that the cause was drowning, secondary to intoxication with Zolpidem, a sleeping medication. Suspicious circumstances surrounding the incident led the local police to investigate further [13]. In 2009, Grant was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to five years in prison [14,15]. He appealed the sentence (not the conviction), but Arizona Court of Appeals upheld the sentence [16].

The World's Greatest Vitamin?

Lapre's 2004 infomercial claimed that "The Greatest Vitamin in the World" contained "all you need for optimal health" and also presented a great financial opportunity [17]. The infomercial claimed that the ingredients, purchased separately would cost from $184/month for low-quality ingredients to $379/month for highest quality ingredients. Along the way, Lapre hinted that taking the product might reduce the odds of getting cancer. For $35, viewers could become "independent advertisers" who, the infomercial promised, would get paid $1,000 or "up to $200 a month for life" every time they got 20 people to try the vitamin. The information stated that "nothing like this has ever been created until now!" and that making money is easy because all anyone had to do is direct people to their Web site, which was designed to persuade them to buy the product.

The numbers presented in the infomercial simply didn't add up. The vitamin itself retails for $39.95 plus $8.65 for a 30-day supply. Twenty purchases would add up to about $900. Can Lapre afford to pay out $1,000 for the privilege of collecting $900 (much of which must cover his expenses)? Was he banking on most people making fewer sales that would enable him to collect more money than he would pay in commissions? Was he planning not to pay? Did he expect to collect many other charges (for Web sites, servicing accounts, etc) as he had done with previous promotions? Or was he counting on all of these factors?

It was not realistic for distributors to expect to make many sales. An Internet search on February 8, 2004 for "Greatest Vitamin in the World" yielded more than 22,000 "hits" that appeared to reflect the efforts of hundreds if not thousands of independent advertisers. A search of eBay the same day found that none of the 20 bottles still offered for sale had received a single bid and that 30 "previously attempted" offerings had resulted in the sale of only three bottles at prices ranging from 1¢ to 55¢. Stiff competition plus weak demand is a formula for business failure.

At that time, the standard "independent advertiser" Web site stated:

The Greatest Vitamin in the World is one bottle of vitamins that nutritionally supports the entire body! Unlike almost every vitamin company in the world today, we use only the highest grade Whole Vitamins (not synthetic), Chelated Minerals (most absorbable for the body to be able to utilize), Probiotics (good bacteria for the intestine which is critical for the body's immune system), Vegetable Enzymes (critical in supporting the body in digesting all the food we eat), all in one vitamin! In this bottle, we also included other critical nutrients that are scientifically proven to help nutritionally support the body in all areas described below! Feel free to click on the different vitamin buttons below and truly educate yourself about our amazing product that is unlike anything out there in the world today! Millions of dollars in research and over 100 studies from the New England Journal of Medicine were used to create this amazing vitamin! This vitamin is endorsed by the NBCCA representing most teams in the NBA! It also has the Gold seal award for using only the highest grade and most absorbable nutrients known to man!

The vitamins in "The Greatest Vitamin" were similar to those available at any drugstore for a few pennies a dose. "Not synthetic" is just an excuse to charge exorbitant prices. Vitamins are chemical compounds and are exactly the same regardless of how they are prepared. Even in the unlikely event that all the vitamin ingredients in The Greatest Vitamin were from natural sources, the multiple chemical processes required to purify and concentrate them would render the vitamins essentially "synthetic."

Considering Lapre's bankruptcy record, I don't believe that "Millions of Dollars in research" (or any scientific research dollars at all) were spent on developing The Greatest Vitamin? Our search of The New England Journal of Medicine archives failed to uncover even a single reference to The Greatest Vitamin in the World. The NBCCA endorsement was meaningless, since, as noted above, it was intimately connected with (if not actually controlled by) Grant and Optimal Health Systems.

The product itself was neither special nor rationally formulated. The ingredients listed on Lapre's Web site included:

A printed brochure, which one of us obtained by calling (800) 544-VITA, improperly suggested that the product was beneficial in preventing or treating stress, obesity, acne, arthritis, diabetes, sleep disorders, cancer, heart disease, digestive problems, stroke, immune weakness, build-up of "toxins, memory problems, loss of vision, depression, "premature aging," and several other problems [19]. The brochure was accompanied by a letter stating that "Most of our diets make it impossible for our bodies to digest all the garbage we eat," a claim that is pure baloney. Visitors to the "Greatest Vitamin" Web sites could access these claims and listen to monthly teleconferences during which Grant promoted the product and invited questions.

Consumer Protection Actions

In July 2005, the FDA ordered Lapre to stop claiming that his vitamin product can prevent or cure a long list of diseases [20]. Although Lapre made superficial changes in his product descriptions, the FDA warned again in 2006 that consumer testimonials and other statements on his Web site still evidence that the product is intended to treat, cure, prevent, or mitigate diabetes, cancer, arthritis, and other diseases [21].

Commercials aired in January 2006 did not mention Doug Grant or the specific disease claims to which the FDA objected. These infomercials offered to pay $500 each time a distributor you sign up got 20 or more people to try the vitamin. We believe that this made the finances of the entire program even more unworkable than described above, because the company would now have to pay out $1,500 rather than $1,000 for the privilege of collecting $900.

In 2006, Grant added The Greatest Weight Loss Pill in the World Grant to his product line and begun doing business as "Saving Lives Across America," which peddled a few more products and similar far-fetched earning opportunity claims.

In 2006, the Better Business Bureau reported:

Based on BBB files, [The Greatest Vitamin in the World] has an unsatisfactory record with the Bureau due to a failure to substantiate its advertised claims and a pattern of complaints. Complaints are concerning refund practices. Specifically, complaints allege inability to cancel the sale or service in accordance with the company's refund policy. Although the company has responded to complaints presented by the Bureau, the company has failed to correct the underlying reason for the complaints. . . .

The company responded to the Bureau's advertising inquiry however, they failed to substantiate the following advertised claims:

In 2007, Lapre shut down Greatest Vitamin after the U.S. Postal Inspection Service served a warrant on the business and federal investigators served a warrant at Lapre's Phoenix home.

In 2008, the Maryland Department of Securities banned Lapre and The Greatest Vitamin in the World, LLC from continuing to do business in Maryland. The cease-and-desist order states that the company was not registered to sell business opportunities and had failed to provide refunds to dissatisfied customers as promised [23].

In June 2011, Lapre was charged with conspiracy, mail fraud, wire fraud, and money laundering. The indictment alleged:

On October 2, 2011, two days before his trial was scheduled to begin, Lapre was found dead in his prison cell [25]. Press reports indicate that he committed suicide by cutting his neck with a razor..

References

  1. Farr L. Don Wan: Valley-based infomercial czar Don Lapre has made millions selling his Money Making secrets to late night TV viewers. So what's the story behind his bankruptcy? Phoenix New Times, Jan 13, 2000.
  2. New Strategies, Inc. Better Business Bureau report. Undated, probably 1999.
  3. Universal Business Strategies. Better Business Bureau of Central/Northern Arizona. BBB reliability report as of 2/8/04.
  4. Karemore International. Better Business Bureau of Central/Northern Arizona. BBB reliability report as of 2/8/04.
  5. Cruse AE. Warning letter to Joseph Deihl, June 10, 2003.
  6. About OHS. Optimal Web site, © 2002, accesses Feb 6, 2004.
  7. Optimal Complete Nutrition product data sheet, downloaded Feb 7, 2004.
  8. Optimal Opti-Cleanse product data sheet, downloaded Feb 7, 2004.
  9. Optimal Optimal Acute product data sheet, downloaded Feb 7, 2004.
  10. Optimal Opti-Care product data sheet, downloaded Feb 7, 2004.
  11. Meet the Infinity2 professional advisory board. Flyer, March 17, 1995.
  12. Barrett S. Live blood cell analysis. Quackwatch, Dec 29, 2006.
  13. Branom M. Widower arrested in ’01 death of wife at Gilbert home. East Valley Tribune, July 15, 2005.
  14. Rubin P. Hate for Doug Grant: Despite scant evidence that Grant killed his wife, the jury convicted him anyhow. Phoenix New Times, April 7, 2009.
  15. Kiefer M. Ex-Suns dietitian sentenced to 5 years in slaying. Arizona Republic, May 16, 2009.
  16. Memorandum decision. State of Arizona v. Douglas D. Grant. Arizona Court of Appeals, Division One Case No. 1 CA-CR 09-0384, filed Feb 17, 2011.
  17. Video infomercial, broadcast January 2004.
  18. Barrett S. "Enzyme deficiency." Quackwatch, revised March 11, 2003.
  19. Treat your body to the Greatest Vitamin in the World. Brochure, © 2004.
  20. Walker SJ. Warning letter to Donald Lapre, July 19, 2005.
  21. Walker SJ. Warning letter to Donald Lapre, April 7, 2006.
  22. BBB reliability report: The Greatest Vitamin in the World. Phoenix AZ: BBB, July 14, 2006.
  23. Final order to cease and desist. Maryland Division of Securities, Case No. 2007-0674, April 4, 2008.
  24. Indictment. USA v Donald Lapre. U.S. District Court, District of Arizona. Case 2:11-cr-01102-SRB, filed June 8, 2011.
  25. Caulfield P. Don Lapre, TV pitchman accused of fraud, found dead in Arizona jail cell of apparent suicide. New York Daily News, Oct 3, 2011.

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Dr. Quill practices anesthesiology and critical care medicine at the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Hanover, New Hampshire and is a professor at the Dartmouth Medical School. He has a lifelong interest in "alternative medicine" and has taught and lectured on the subject for many years.

This article was revised on October 7, 2011.