PHOENIX (Reuters) - A TV infomercial pitchman accused of defrauding more than 226,000 people out of nearly $52 million has died in his Arizona jail cell of an apparent suicide, authorities said on Monday.
Donald Lapre, 47, was found dead at about 8:30 a.m. on Sunday at a facility in Florence, Arizona, where he was being held on fraud and other related charges, U.S. Marshal's spokesman Matt Hershey said.
Lapre, the self-proclaimed "King of Infomercials," was awaiting a trial next October after being indicted on 41 charges stemming from a nationwide scheme to sell what was billed as "The Greatest Vitamin in the World."
Hershey declined to say if Lapre had been on a suicide watch or how he could have killed himself, citing an ongoing investigation.
Lapre had been charged with conspiracy, mail fraud, wire fraud, promotional money laundering and transactional money laundering.
Authorities said Lapre and others were able to get investors to buy worthless Internet-based businesses that primarily sold the vitamins from April 2003 through October 2007.
The federal grand jury indictment, made public in June, revealed that that 226,794 people had signed up for the scheme, losing an estimated $51.8 million.
In a rambling note on his website, Lapre said he did nothing wrong.
"I did not have the perfect company, but never once did I allow one thing to be done that would violate any law," he wrote on donlapre.com.
"Nevertheless, because the majority of people did not make money ... I am left to fight a battle that will for sure destroy what energy I have left inside."
(Reporting by David Schwartz; Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Cynthia Johnston)