The Real Deihl

How a Paradise Valley snake-oil salesman sprayed his way to success

Nine days after September 11, 2001, a guy named Joe Deihl from Paradise Valley started a company called Regency Medical Research, Ltd.

Within months, Regency had an amazing new product on the market. It was KI-Spray, a small bottle of potassium iodide that users could spray in their mouths when "a nuclear disaster strikes" to "shield yourself and your family against thyroid-related cancers and other diseases that crippled and killed thousands for years after the Chernobyl nuclear plant disaster."

No joke. Thanks to Deihl, Americans could just spray away those annoying Armageddons.

Sari and Joe Deihl, the "darlings of Valley high society."
Sari and Joe Deihl, the "darlings of Valley high society."
The Sari Collection of skin-care products, named after Sari Deihl.
The Sari Collection of skin-care products, named after Sari Deihl.

"No water needed, no pills to swallow, just spray like a breath freshener . . . to protect you and your loved ones," the company said on its Web site, www.vitamist.com.

Also, the product tasted good and was "child friendly."

KI-Spray was arguably the most brilliant invention in the history of American snake-oil medicine.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, however, did not appreciate the historic beauty of KI-Spray.

In June of 2003, Alonza Cruse, director of the FDA's Los Angeles district, sent Deihl and his company a letter ordering them to stop selling KI-Spray immediately because the product and the company's claims violated numerous provisions of the federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.

"False promotional statements are being made by you," Cruse wrote, "that are aimed at and accessible to American consumers stating in part: 'Meets all FDA requirements for potassium iodide as a radiation protective, and is labeled and packaged in accordance with U.S. government guidelines. . . . Comes full strength in accordance with FDA demands for complete thyroid blocking . . . manufactured in the United States under strict guidelines, in FDA-approved facilities.'"

Regency stopped making KI-Spray. No harm, no foul, the government responded (and typically responds in such cases).

But Deihl, who did not answer requests to be interviewed for this story, continued to make lots of other stuff under a bunch of different company names.

One of those companies received a cease-and-desist order from the Arizona Attorney General's Office in 2002 for unlawful credit card billing practices.

Two other companies have bad ratings from the Better Business Bureau.

Deihl and his companies, some owned jointly with his wife and sons, have had nearly 70 lawsuits filed against them in state and federal courts. Bills weren't paid. Refunds weren't refunded. Credit cards were charged without authorization. Two of the companies have gone bankrupt.

But in this business, companies and products come and go with the wind.

What remains, and what has been allowed to remain thanks to spineless government oversight, is the slippery rock of genius behind them all.

In this case, the genius is Joe Deihl (yes, "deal"), a multimillionaire known more in the Valley as a Republican party bigwig, respected philanthropist and host to some of the Valley's swankiest parties.

Outside the Valley, Deihl is gaining a reputation of a different sort.

He arguably has become one of the greatest, which also means most notorious, snake-oil salesmen in 21st-century America.


In the early 1980s, Joe Deihl came up with a big idea. At that time, Deihl had a relatively modest home in east Phoenix and a small tear gas manufacturing company in Tempe. Deihl and his wife, Sari, and sons, William and Joe II, made extra money performing as clowns at parties. Old neighbors remember the Deihl family returning from events in an old Volkswagen bug, honking their horn as they waved to neighbors in their clown outfits.

Neighbors remember the family as being a bit odd, but extremely friendly and accommodating. The Deihls threw neighborhood parties.

"I don't remember much about the parties except for seeing a black velvet painting of a clown in the house," says one former neighbor. "But I remember them always being very gracious. They made every effort to be liked."

But the tear gas business remained relatively slow. Not many people seemed interested in assaulting the soft tissues of their fellow man.

Joe Deihl realized, however, that similar propellant technology could be used to create the exact opposite effect. Instead of spraying others with something believed to be harmful, he could help people spray themselves with something believed to be helpful.

In the marketplace of fear, the homeland of snake-oil salesmen, he shifted from offering a weapon against bad guys to offering a weapon against bad germs.

In 1984, Deihl received a patent for "novel vitaminic compositions in the form of an aerosol comprising a suspension of droplets containing at least one vitamin dispersed in a carrier gas."

It was basically a spray breath freshener, like the Binaca Blast, with vitamins added to the spray. People would no longer have to swallow pills, a process Deihl said in his patent application was often accompanied with "gagging or vomiting."

A neat idea, and one that, when sold through a massive multilevel marketing scheme, has made Deihl a rich man.

Along the way, Deihl and his family have created numerous other companies: Mayor Pharmaceuticals, Lifestyle Advantage Ltd., Vitamist Ltd., Regency Medical Research, Karemor International, Pharma Comm Group Ltd., Windy City Properties, Spoiled Brat Ltd., Creative Personnel Resources, to name a few.

All the companies are intertwined. Windy City Properties owns the $6 million office, warehouse and call-center facilities out of which all the companies operate at 2601 and 2606 South 24th Street in Phoenix. In theory, Mayor makes Vitamist products, which are sold by the network marketing company Karemor, which is employed with people from Creative Personnel Resources in a building owned by Windy City Properties.

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