The Real Deihl

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

It's a tangled web, one that has made it nearly impossible for Deihl's numerous creditors to collect on unpaid bills. Along the way, several of Deihl's individual entities have gotten into trouble with either the government or creditors. But those individual companies can fold or go bankrupt without damaging the other entities, even though they're all owned by the same people.

Going after unpaid bills from Joe Deihl means, in legal terms, "piercing the corporate veil," which, in economic terms, means tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees. For most creditors, it's not worth the fight.

Indeed, of the lawsuits reviewed by New Times, most were settled out of court with pennies on the dollar going to creditors.

Dr. Timothy Quill 
Dr. Timothy Quill 

In 2001, Deihl added a high-profile plum to his corporate fruit bowl. That year, he bought the bankrupt company of frenetic former late-night infomercial titan Don Lapre.

By the late 1990s, the Deihls had built themselves into major players in Paradise Valley. Sari Deihl had found her way onto numerous high-profile Valley charity boards. Joe had positioned himself as the guy to see if you were a Republican in need of campaign funds. He hosted fund raisers for Congressman John Shadegg and Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and hobnobbed with the likes of Dan Quayle. Leading up to the 2000 campaign, Sari and Joe Deihl were the state's fifth largest individual campaign contributors, donating more than $15,000 to Republican candidates.

The next year, as reported last month in New Times, Deihl wrote a $10,000 check to Joe Arpaio, a check that apparently helped Deihl's son, Joe II, serve time in a small, cushy Mesa jail instead of Tent City for a 1997 solicitation of prostitution conviction.

By 2000, the Deihls had moved up to a $1.5 million house in Paradise Valley. Joe and his wife owned three Mercedes-Benzes, a classic 1950 Jaguar and a 1972 Ferrari 365 GT valued at more than $100,000.

And the parties, increasingly aimed at business associates, political leaders and society bigwigs, became much more memorable.

Here's the problem with Joe Deihl's spray vitamin invention: In the 20 years since he got his patent, there has been no sound scientific evidence that spraying vitamins does anything more than cover the lining of your mouth with vitamins.

"Spray vitamins are the new snake oil," says Timothy Quill, who practices anesthesiology and critical care medicine at the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and is a professor of anesthesiology at Dartmouth Medical School. "They're essentially useless."

New Times asked Quill, one of the nation's most respected investigators of alternative medicine scams, to give his opinion about the products and claims made by Deihl's company, Vitamist, which claims 100,000 sales representatives worldwide, regarding the company's spray vitamins. He had nothing good to say.

"The arguments given on the Vitamist Web site for taking these spray products are specious pseudomedical mumbo jumbo," he says. "It's just foolishness. None of it makes any sense when you understand vitamins and the way they're absorbed."

"Preliminary look at Vitamist = bullshit," Quill wrote in an e-mail.

Quill, who occasionally writes for the online consumer watchdog newsletter "Quackwatch," followed with a more extensive opinion on exactly why spray vitamins don't work. Here's a brief summary:

"Water-soluble drugs, such as most vitamins, are hardly absorbed at all via the mucosal route. Since only a microscopic amount is absorbed, the drugs must be very potent, AND they must be largely metabolized by the liver so that the residual product which is swallowed does not result in overdose."

Which is funny, because on the Vitamist Web site, the company says it puts smaller doses of vitamins in its spray "due to the superior absorption rate achieved by our method of delivery. We expect close to 100 percent of this dose to enter the blood stream."

Also, Quill says, "the argument that frequent oral sprays give a more constant level of vitamins is just crazy. There are few or no studies that show that the serum levels are actually more consistent with spray vitamins; each individual vitamin would have a very different absorption profile, and there is no evidence that more constant serum levels of vitamins is helpful in any way, even if you achieved that state."

But Vitamist and similar companies can make all sorts of claims, Quill says, because the products "are sold as nutritional supplements, so they require no research or testing IN ANY WAY for efficacy or safety prior to being marketed since the 1993 Nutritional Supplements Act was passed by Congress."

That law, which vitamin companies spent millions lobbying for, gives companies carte blanche to make claims and sell products as long as the product is not deemed by the FDA to be a drug.

All Vitamist must do is put this declaimer in tiny letters at the bottom of claims made on the company's Web site:

"These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. This product is not designed to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease."

Here's the trick for dancing around that last sentence, Quill says: "First you list scary diseases like heart disease. Then you say 'heart disease kills people.' Then you say 'we have a special vitamin and that studies show vitamins are helpful and that you need a minimum daily allowance.' You never say your vitamin stops heart disease, you just imply. Then you hope the customer makes the link you aren't supposed to make."

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