For anyone active in the New York city breadth throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Crazy Eddie was inescapable. A alternation of electronics food that eventually advance to 43 locations above four states, the business bombarded consumers with print, television, and radio ads that affirmed name cast articles at aloft discounts. Disc jockey Jerry Carroll taped added than 7500 of the radio and television spots as a aggressive salesman who promised that Crazy Eddie’s prices were “insaaaaane.” At one point, the food had greater name acceptance amid New Yorkers than Ed Koch.
Koch was the ambassador of New York at the time.
“Crazy Eddie” was Eddie Antar, the grandson of Syrian immigrants, who started a bashful stereo boutique in Brooklyn and parlayed it into a retail authority grossing $350 actor annually. In accession to alteration how electronics retailers advertised—pushing bulk aloft all else—Antar additionally paid his advisers off the books, bootless to address banknote purchases, kept the sales tax, and afterwards migrated to $145 actor in balance artifice back his cousin, Sam Antar, accelerating from academy as a Certified Accessible Accountant (CPA).
“The accomplished purpose of the business was to accomplish advised fraud,” Sam tells mental_floss. “My ancestors put me through academy to advice them accomplish added adult artifice in the future. I was accomplished to be a criminal.
“People accept a assertive abstraction of Crazy Eddie. In reality, it was a aphotic bent enterprise.”
A aerial academy dropout at the age of 16, Eddie Antar ashen no time in base the beginning apple of chump electronics. It was the backward 1960s, and smaller, added carriageable transistors were about to conductor in a new beachcomber of articles that would accomplish Japanese brands like Sony and Panasonic domiciliary names. Afore long, video d systems, VCRs, and camcorders would aggrandize the market.
Initially, Antar awash televisions from a baby angle at the Port Authority, avaricious absorption by talking fast and eventually cutting barter down. “He was like Fonzie,” Sam says. “Very absorbing and absolute smart. You abduct added with a smile than you do with a gun.”
By 1970, Eddie had abstruse from the abortion of his aboriginal store, a tiny atom a Coney Island Avenue in Brooklyn dubbed Sights & Sounds ERS, and anchored a bigger breadth for an aperture that he endemic with his father, Sam Antar, and accessory Ronnie Gindi. The “crazy” adjective came from a chump who took agenda of Eddie’s salesmanship practices: He’d playfully bar assemblage from abrogation empty-handed and booty their shoes as deposits for stereos; he alike promised discounts to bodies who braved winter blizzards. Word advance of Eddie’s affected approach. Added importantly, bodies began to apprehend he was blithely blank federal guidelines apropos pricing.
Fair barter laws meant that manufacturers could assert on one accepted retail bulk for all retailers. In theory, this meant consumers would consistently get the “best” accord no bulk breadth they shopped—but Eddie apparent his commodity bottomward anyway. It was the alone way he could attempt with above chains that had huge ad budgets. Back manufacturers banned to advertise him inventory, he’d get it from grey-market suppliers with items advised for beyond sales or added businesses that had balance stock. (Stolen appurtenances were a attenuate source. “Too risky,” Sam says.)
How could he allow to do it? By stealing. “As a base clandestine company, we had the advantage,” says Sam, who began his career in the ancestors business as a banal boy at the age of 14. “Back then, best barter paid in cash. If we don’t acknowledge the sale, we accumulate the sales tax. That’s a acceptable beanbag to be able to allow to exhausted the competition.” Banknote acquirement was kept beneath beds, in floorboards, or deposited into Israeli banks.
Despite Eddie’s buried criminality, his action to fair barter practices fabricated him a hero in the eyes of consumers. In 1976, the absolute adjudicator states repealed the law, banishment manufacturers to advertise to any banker who could allow to pay their invoices.
While that may accept collapsed the arena acreage a bit, Eddie had addition anatomy of ammunition: advertising. Though his account was small, the ad attack adapted up by announcement administrator Larry Weiss featuring Carroll as a berserk discounter was so memorable that Crazy Eddie’s name acceptance began to beat that of Coca-Cola in the tri-state area. Some bounded stations backward on the air brief artlessly because Antar had bought all the ad time. (According to Weiss, Eddie’s aboriginal atom on the radio bulk $5. He never paid the bill.)
Between 1975 and 1984, Crazy Eddie recorded profits in the millions by application annals bribery to under-report income; adjustment casework were billed to manufacturers at three times their absolute cost; and barter would generally be addled by one, two, or three salesmen accomplished in the Crazy Eddie adjustment of coercion.
“You had one actuality with the customer, the About-face Over, or SO,” Sam explains. “The additional would be the Booty Over, or TO. If he failed, you’d alarm in the third, the NAD—the Nail ‘Em At the Door guy. It wasn’t aloof discounting. We approved to about-face the chump to higher-margin items.” Sony, for example, ability be a break-even sale; Crazy Eddie advisers would try to argue barter affairs a Sony receiver that they bare house-brand speakers or a subwoofer.
Some of this was advised in a accent different to Eddie’s assignment culture. “We batten a affectionate of Arabic pig Latin,” Sam says. “We had a concordance that would be anesthetized around. We capital [employees] to feel like allotment of the ancestors culture.” That ability that would anon abound to accommodate balance artifice on a akin never afore apparent in retail.
In 1980, Sam Antar accelerating Baruch Academy of the City University of New York as a CPA and alternate to Crazy Eddie full-time as its arch banking officer. By design, his apprenticeship was to advice the Antar ancestors ster artifice aloft and above bribery the annals or affairs aggrandized continued warranties.
In adjustment to do that, they’d aboriginal accept to go straight—even if it meant overpaying their assets taxes. “We bare to address a college accumulation afore accepting a college accessible valuation,” Sam says. “So from 1980 to 1984, back we went public, that was my job. You legitimize the business in adjustment to accomplish bigger fraud.”
By advertisement sales ahead conducted beneath the counter, Crazy Eddie was able to authenticate advance alike back sales were steady. They were additionally able to access appraisal by advantageous taxes able-bodied in balance of what they ability accept absolutely owed. “As an example, say we affirmation to advertise $1 actor with a 50 percent tax rate,” Sam says. “We pay $500,000 in taxes. If the aggregation is trading at 30 times earnings, we’ve aggrandized the value—and it’s account spending that $500,000.”
Crazy Eddie had addition bit of misdirection prepared. At one point, Sam was able to defended a job with the company’s auditors afterwards them alive he still formed for the retailer. It helped to apperceive accountant habits, like alone attractive at assertive food back administering account checks. By advocacy banal in those food and claiming it was above the board, Crazy Eddie could affirmation $65 actor in artefact they didn’t absolutely possess.
The amorality of the ancestors business fabricated for handsome profits. Back Crazy Eddie went accessible in 1984, the banal attempt from $8 a allotment to $79—and the Antars captivated abundant of it. Added than $145 actor was aloft from investors who had no abstraction Crazy Eddie was misrepresenting its banking profile.
“We never batten about appropriate or wrong,” Sam says. “It was aloof the way we did things.”
Before long, some in the Antar ancestors would allege up about their business practices. And back the finger-pointing was over, Crazy Eddie would acquisition himself both in banishment and attributable $120 actor in restitution.
Eddie Antar (R) afterwards actuality arrested in Israel in 1992. Courtesy of Getty.
If it had been up to the auditors, Sam says, Crazy Eddie would apparently still be in business. “They do the agnate of award typos in a Word document. They booty a baby sample and activity it assimilate the banking bearings as a whole. The companies they analysis are alleged ‘clients.’ That accent is important. It should be ‘target.’” Best fraud, Sam believes, is apparent by whistleblowers, not accounting firms, who he says apply adolescent and amateur advisers to cross complicated banking inspections.
That abstracted access is what kept Crazy Eddie affable books for about two decades. In 1987, afterwards a abiding abatement in sales attributable to added mass-discount retailers and overeager expansion, the company’s banal bulk dipped, and the Antars begin themselves accountable to new majority shareholders who were puzzled by the abstract inventory. Once the U.S. Balance and Exchange Commission got involved, it was a bulk of time afore Sam, Eddie, and Eddie’s ancestor began allusive for the best government accord accessible while their authorization began to aing its doors.
“There’s no bigger motivator than a 20-year bastille term,” Sam says. He told the government the absolute story, from the bribery to the banal fraud. “I didn’t abet because I begin God. I cooperated to save my ass.”
Eddie Antar, who had fled to Israel for two years afterward the investigation, was extradited in 1992 and bedevilled to 12-and-a-half years in bastille in 1994; back his adjudicator was criticized for bent that led to an chaotic confidence in 17 counts including cabal and racketeering, he got eight years as allotment of a appeal to abstain a retrial in 1996. Officials were able to retrieve added than $120 actor in adopted accounts, which was repaid to investors. Because of his cooperation, Sam accustomed six months of abode arrest and the accident of his CPA license.
“It was absolutely aloof the aing business step,” he says. “I awash advice to the government and got my freedom.”
After actuality appear from his “vacation,” Sam began to get invitations to address at universities and clandestine businesses about white-collar fraud. “My rap area became added important than my resume.”
He has back become a argumentative accountant, advising businesses, law firms, and the FBI on the tricks acclimated to ster artifice on investors, all while affirmation that he’s not alms himself up as a “redemption” story. “It helps my believability by not actuality atoning for my crimes. Alarm me the bent I was and apparently still am. I ability acquaint you I won’t accomplish addition crime, but is it true? Or does it aloof advice you beddy-bye bigger at night?”
Sam hasn’t announced to his accessory in years. (In 1994, Eddie told the Philadelphia Inquirer the bribery went against a alimony armamentarium for workers and that his cousins were the “true masterminds” of the banal scam.) Jerry Carroll, who became acclaimed for the television ads, has back adopted the addiction of starting interviews by cogent bodies he had annihilation to do with the scheme. Citing “brand equity,” a licensee briefly approved animating the cast in 2009, which Sam compared to resurrecting Enron. It never got off the ground.
In the end, Sam believes Crazy Eddie’s bequest comes bottomward to two words: abatement and fraud. For the Antars, no bulk of accepted success could according the blitz of assault the system.
“There’s a band in the Wall Street aftereffect about it not actuality about the money,” he says. “And that was true. It was never about the money. It was about the game. And we enjoyed the game.”
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