Don Lapre, Vitamin Titan, Attempted Suicide, Hid Out at Lifetime Fitness
Vitamin hustler Don Lapre, in a still from one of his once-ubiquitous infomercials
They say the marshal always gets his man, but there's no guaranteeing the condition the fugitive will be in when nabbed.
Take infomercial huckster Don Lapre, who made the not-so smooth move of failing to appear for his arraignment in federal court on 41 counts of fraud-related charges. After his no-show on Wednesday, June 22, a warrant was issued for his arrest.
But when federal agents stopped the car Lapre was in, near Warner Road and Interstate 10 in Tempe, they found the marketing guru suffering from deep, self-inflicted knife wounds to his thigh and groin.
The U.S. Marshals Service believes the vitamin peddler had been trying to hit his femoral artery in order to bleed out and commit suicide. The ultimate method of eluding capture.
Deputy marshals (one of whom was a paramedic) tended to his wounds and transported Lapre to an area hospital, according to U.S. Marshal for Arizona David Gonzales.
Gonzales told me Lapre underwent surgery and is now being held at an undisclosed medical facility. The wounds were so severe that the judge may have to go to the hospital to proceed with his initial appearance hearing.
Even stranger than Lapre's bid to off himself was where Lapre had been hiding since Wednesday.
"We discovered that he'd been kind of holed up at the Lifetime Fitness center [in Tempe]," Gonzales explained. "He had spent a day and a half secured in a private changing area."
Gonzales' men think the 47-year-old Lapre hurt himself while in the massive, posh, 24-hour gym, which includes swimming pools, a cafe, a salon, steam rooms, and a family changing area that has shower stalls with doors.
It was, apparently, in this family changing room that Lapre was hiding, although he did leave periodically to eat at a local restaurant, and buy a knife.
I visited the facility on Sunday. The assistant manager on duty said he had just returned from doing a training in another state and claimed to know nothing of Lapre. He looked up Lapre's name in the company's database and stated that he was not listed as a member.
However, an employee working the desk said she was there as undercover marshals staked out the gym looking for Lapre. She explained that she harangued one of them for I.D., as all those entering the gym have to present photo I.D. at the front desk.
The deputy marshal eventually identified himself as law enforcement, but did not tell her that they were after Lapre.
After I showed her a photo of Lapre, she said she didn't remember him, but she did confirm that he had been a Lifetime Fitness member.
She also recalled seeing bags of clothes and towels found in the family changing area that day by the cleaning staff, as well as a knife discovered with the items. The clothes and towels were stained with what she now assumes was blood.
"We didn't know what it was," she said of the find. "We didn't think it was blood. We actually thought it was [excrement]."
The door to the family changing area states that parents and guardians are only supposed to enter the room if a minor 11 or under is with them. But the female clerk explained to me that people go through the room "all the time," sometimes to access a nearby pool.
Lifetime's General Manager Brian Frankwick was not available Sunday, and has not returned my requests for comment.
Another employee who identified himself as a former general manager would only speak off the record, but he explained that due to shift changes and the size of the gym, they have had incidents in the past where people try to use the facility as a hotel. He stressed that this is not allowed, and that those discovered doing this are immediately 86'd.
According to Gonzales, Lapre had just left the facility in a car driven by his sister when he was arrested. Another person was in the car as well, but Gonzales is not releasing that individual's name at this time. Lapre's sister and the other individual were not arrested.
"We're looking into the possibility that these individuals were harboring or hindering prosecution," Gonzales said. "They said they were going to the hospital, but they were stopped at Warner and I-10, just down the road from the gym."
Gonzales says his men spotted Lapre leaving with "other individuals associated with him." They left the gym's parking lot in two cars, one with Lapre, his sister, and another person. And at least one other person in a separate car.
Gonzales noted that Lapre needed "immediate medical attention."
The question remains why these individuals, assuming they wanted to help Lapre with his injuries, didn't just call 911 or the marshals' service.
Lapre's Website features a message to supporters acknowledging his legal problems. Though it does not mention suicide, it does have a slight feeling of finality to it.
"It did not work out for me with my vitamins but I believe that being willing to fail is part of having a chance at success, " he writes. "Never stop dreaming and for all those who sent me testimonials of what you did because of some of my help, I am grateful I made a small difference in your life."
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