Vitamin king Carl DeSantis won kudos recently for donating $2 million to Nova Southeastern University for a new building to house its graduate business school. "It's very important to us to have… people of this stature and respect signing on to our school," Randolph Pohlman, dean of the business school, gushed to the Sun-Sentinel.

But Pohlman might have been more guarded in his praise if he knew that the state is investigating one of DeSantis' businesses for possible fraud.

The Economic Crimes Division of the Florida Attorney General's Office has launched a probe of Rexall Showcase International (RSI), a subsidiary of Boca Raton-based Rexall Sundown Inc. DeSantis is the founder and chairman of the parent company, which manufactures and distributes vitamins and other dietary supplements. With DeSantis at the helm, the company created RSI to market dietary supplements through Amway-type independent distributors, including doctors, who peddle the pills to family members, friends, and patients.

Last July we put out a story on Rexall Showcase entitled "The Doctor Will Sell You Now." It presented evidence that RSI is engaged in a fraudulent pyramid scheme, in which the distributors make money by recruiting new distributors rather than selling products to retail customers -- the hallmark of a pyramid scheme.

Dave Aronberg, an assistant attorney general based in Fort Lauderdale, says the New Times article prompted his office's civil probe. He wants to know whether RSI violated state laws against pyramid schemes and deceptive practices. He also wants to know whether Rexall recruited distributors through deceptive claims about potential earnings.

A Rexall Sundown spokeswoman says the company is "confident" that RSI's practices are in compliance with the law. Nova's Dean Pohlman did not return calls for comment on whether he will refund DeSantis' $2 million if it turns out that part of his angel's fortune was gotten through fraud.

We have seen restaurants come and go in downtown Hollywood with alarming regularity over the years, but this sets a record.

Mediterranean Oasis opened last month at the ill-fated spot formerly occupied by Revolution 2029 -- and closed two weeks later.

How could a restaurant go bust in a fortnight? It's unprecedented, says Lea Crusberg of the Florida Restaurant Association. According to leasing agent Debbie Segal, the owners were Yugoslavians who had lived in Germany, where they operated several successful restaurants. They thought what had worked in Germany would work in downtown Hollywood. Nein! The couple does not speak English, Segal says, and would not take her advice to hire a publicist and advertise. Segal wasn't even sure what kind of food they served, calling it a gastronomic mishmash. She said the couple lost a ton of money and has apparently returned to Germany, fleeing in such a hurry they left food in the freezer. Stale goulash with decayed knockwurst anyone?

More bad news for downtown Hollywood: The long-awaited Big Pink, the trendy chain with locations in South Beach and Las Olas Riverfront, will not be coming after all. That became apparent when the sign in the window of a Harrison storefront for six months that read "Big Pink Coming Soon" was replaced with a sign reading "For Lease."

Got a tip? Call 954-233-1581, fax 954-233-1571, or e-mail [email protected].

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Tom Walsh
Contact: Tom Walsh