By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
For much of the 1990s, Don Lapre had one of the top 10 most broadcast infomercials called Making Money.
Often accompanied by a supermodel, Lapre, with wild arm-flaying exuberance, explained how he ascended from a one-bedroom apartment to making $50,000 a week by placing small classified ads that drew people to 900 phone numbers for his businesses.
Viewers could repeat his success by buying his $40 Making Money kit.
The real money came for Lapre after that first sell. Purchasers were called back with another sales presentation to entice them to buy psychic, sports, chat and date phone lines for a final bill of about $850.
After purchasing Lapre's assets in bankruptcy court, Deihl simply began re-airing Lapre's old infomercials. Deihl utilized the same sales strategy, which, according to numerous customers, entailed a ridiculous litany of misrepresentations, hidden costs, overcharges and unreturned refunds.
In giving Universal Business Strategies an "unsatisfactory" rating, the Better Business Bureau listed these problems reported by customers:
"Though the company offered a 30-day money back guarantee, the Bureau had received complaints alleging delays in both delivery of the product and refunds to those who returned the merchandise."
"Significant additional costs were reportedly not told to prospective customers up front." "Earning turned out to be not as represented." The company has a "pattern of unanswered complaints alleging unauthorized charges to customers' credit cards, some to customers who canceled the program several years ago."
Things got so bad that even Don Lapre, no stranger to allegations of fraud, felt he needed to defend his name. Lapre posted this Internet message to the world in 2002:
"For over two years I have not been operating the company which sells the Making Money Package you see on television today!!" Lapre wrote.
"Today, I am embarrassed and extremely upset over the way customers have been handled since I left back in February of 2000. The company breached my contract which guaranteed customers would be handled correctly!!! This has destroyed my name and likeness in ways I can't imagine would have ever even been allowed by law!!"
"Also, any audio tapes used by this company that have my voice are over three years old and DO NOT represent my opinion regarding any products sold regarding 900 lines!!! I have received many complaints by customers stating they have received charges on their credit cards which they never approved of!!! . . . If this company represents that I am affiliated with its operations in any way, you are being misled."
New Times attempted to reach Lapre, but three phone numbers for him had all been disconnected.
By one estimation, Universal Strategies owed its customers $3 million. Instead of paying debtors, Deihl threw the company into bankruptcy and shut down operations.
At the same time, Karemor, Vitamist and Deihl's other companies rolled along. The Arizona AG's Office considers its investigation of the company closed, although, as an AG spokeswoman told New Times, "if anybody believes the company is violating that specific order, they need to contact us."
An FDA spokeswoman said she could not discuss the potassium iodide-related sanction or follow-up actions by the company or the FDA because "it's still an open case."
It's also a two-year-old case regarding a four-year-old product.
"These guys always get away with nothing more than a slap on the wrist," Dr. Quill says. "That's the nature of our laws and our regulatory system."
The Vitamist Web site contains a peculiar anomaly, a section devoted to the sales of skin-care products, not spray vitamins.
Click into this section, and the skin-care products begin to make sense. This product line isn't about making money, it's about Arizona nouveau riche vanity run amok.
The skin-care products are called "The Sari Collection," as in Sari Deihl, Joe's wife.
Before any mention of the products, though, visitors are greeted with a written introduction titled "The Legacy Begins."
"Sari . . . born to leave her mark on the world!
"Expecting the best in all aspects of life she has committed herself to excellence. As a loving mother, grandmother and ambitious business woman she still makes time to serve on the board of numerous charities. Her deep concern for children has led her to commit not only her time but also her resources. . . . A portion of the proceeds of each Sari product purchased will be directed to the Sari Foundation to help the lives of innocent children."
Sadly for innocent children, the Sari Collection has been a bust.
The glowing bio includes a picture of Sari, hair up, teeth straight and white and skin gauzily wrinkle-free. Her skin glows. She wears a necklace on which the words "Spoiled Brat" are spelled out in diamonds.
The text continues:
"The Legend of this Spoiled Brat signature diamond necklace began when Joseph gave it to Sari to symbolize his eternal love for the woman whose beauty launched The Sari Collection. Alfredo Molina from the House of Molina was commissioned to design this signature diamond necklace as shown on Sari. This exquisite piece was created by four gem setters with over 50 karats of perfect white diamonds."
Paul Dembow, president of Arizona Natural Resources, was on hand when Sari was presented with the necklace at a Karemor/Vitamist lunch convention at Disneyland in 1998. Dembow's north Phoenix skin-care manufacturing company made the Sari line of products for the Deihls.