Pitchman Don Lapre dies in federal custody

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

PHOENIX (AP) -- A U.S. Marshals Service spokesman says a Phoenix-based TV pitchman charged with running a nationwide scheme to sell essentially worthless Internet-based businesses has died in an apparent suicide while in federal custody.

Spokesman Matt Hershey says Donald Lapre was found dead in his cell at a Florence facility Sunday morning. His trial was scheduled to begin Tuesday.

Hershey told 3TV Monday morning that it looks like Lapre committed suicide. The Pinal County Medical Examiner's Officer, however, will determine exactly how Lapre died.

The U.S. Marshals Service is conducting an investigation into his death.

A grand jury indicted Lapre in June on 41 counts of conspiracy, mail fraud, wire fraud and promotional money laundering. He was accused of overseeing and promoting the opportunity through his company called "The Greatest Vitamin in the World."

The government says at least 220,000 victims in the scheme were defrauded of nearly $52 million.