Phoenix promotor of the 'Greatest Vitamin in the World' charged with defrauding over 220,000 victims
PHOENIX - A federal grand jury in Phoenix has returned a 41-count indictment against Donald Lapre of Phoenix, for Conspiracy, Mail Fraud, Wire Fraud, Promotional Money Laundering and Transactional Money Laundering. The indictment, returned last week, alleges that the 47-year-old Lapre oversaw and promoted a nationwide scheme to sell essentially worthless Internet-based businesses to over 220,000 victims through his company "The Greatest Vitamin in the World."
Lapre was summoned yesterday to appear for an arraignment at 1:30 p.m. June 22 before Magistrate Judge Lawrence O. Anderson in Federal Court in Phoenix.
"This indictment goes to show that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is," said U.S. Attorney Dennis K. Burke. "Mr. Lapre used incessant nationally televised info-mercials to hawk his vitamins and worthless websites as a way to get rich quick without working hard. His scams swindled a sea of victims, but thanks to the efforts of the Postal Inspection Service and the IRS, he will face justice."
"Home-based business opportunities have a certain appeal, especially in today's economy," said Pete Zegarac, Inspector in Charge of the Phoenix Division U.S. Postal Inspection Service. "Consumers should be cautious of schemes which promise to bring in large amounts of money with little or no effort on their part."
IRS Criminal Investigation, Special Agent In Charge Dawn Mertz added, "This case demonstrates that the appearance of success can be a mask for a tangled financial web of lies. As the web falls apart it leaves investors with nothing. IRS Criminal Investigation will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to pursue these types of investigations, and make those responsible accountable for their actions."
According to the indictment, from April 2003 through October 2007, Lapre allegedly conspired with others to defraud thousands of victims all across the country by encouraging them to invest in an Internet-based business. The "business" primarily consisted of selling the Greatest Vitamin in the World (GVW) over the Internet and the opportunity to sell the opportunity to do the same thing to others. At the height of the scheme, Lapre had enlisted approximately 226,794 people to sell a limited number of products via individual websites. Along with selling tens of thousands of Internet-based businesses which were essentially worthless, Lapre fraudulently provided his investor/victims, known as "Independent Advertisers" (IAs), with false vitamin sales records. These records encouraged IAs to purchase additional advertising and services in the hope of obtaining commissions including $1,000 checks. Lapre also fraudulently sold bulk Internet traffic to IAs while claiming that it was targeted to individuals who were seeking to either buy vitamins or invest in similar businesses. GVW sales representatives regularly signed up victims as IAs even if they did not own a computer. During the course of the scheme, at least 220,000 victim/IAs were defrauded of approximately $51.8 million. During this same period, approximately $6.3 million in commissions were paid to approximately 5,000 victim/IAs.
Convictions in this case for Conspiracy carry a maximum penalty of five years, a $250,000 fine or both; Mail Fraud and Wire Fraud carry a maximum penalty of 25 years, a $250,000 fine or both; Promotional Money Laundering carry a maximum penalty of 20 years, a $500,000 fine or both; and Transactional Money Laundering carry a maximum penalty of 10 years, a $250,000 fine or both. In determining an actual sentence, U.S. District Court Judge Susan R. Bolton will consult the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines, which provide appropriate sentencing ranges. The judge, however, is not bound by those guidelines in determining a sentence.
An indictment is simply the method by which a person is charged with criminal activity and raises no inference of guilt. An individual is presumed innocent until competent evidence is presented to a jury that establishes guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
Potential victims of this scheme may submit a victim statement via the following website operated by the Postal Inspection Service: www.postalinspectorsurvey.com/vitamins. Potential victims of this scheme may also keep track the progress of the case by visiting the following link located on the U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona's website: http://www.justice.gov/usao/az/us_v_donald_lapre_gvw.html
The investigation preceding the indictment was conducted the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigation. The prosecution is being handled by Frederick A. Battista, Assistant U.S. Attorney, District of Arizona, Phoenix.
CASE NUMBER: CR-11 1102-PHX – SRB (DKD)
RELEASE NUMBER: 2011-114(Lapre)