BROOKLYN—He was known as Crazy Eddie.
Eddie Antar, the electronics kingpin who once presided over a retail empire spanning four states, died Saturday, according to a family member. Antar’s company was known for its frenetic television advertising of a seemingly crazed pitchman—before it all collapsed like a house of cards in a multi-million-dollar securities fraud.
He was 68. Funeral services are scheduled today in New Jersey.
Antar, who first went into business with his father out of a storefront on Kings Highway in Brooklyn, turned Crazy Eddie into the largest electronics chain in the New York metropolitan area.
Later headquartered in Edison, it grew to 43 stores in four states, fueled by its aggressive sales tactics and over-the-top late-night TV ads—at a time when manufacturers fought hard to set retail prices.
Indeed, not many knew what Antar looked like. Most mistakenly believed that former New York radio disc jockey Jerry Carroll, whose spastic, over-the-top delivery that promised the lowest “insane prices” anywhere, for everything from VCRs, stereos, televisions and speakers—and became the face of the Crazy Eddie business—was in fact Eddie himself.
But because of those commercials, seemingly everyone in the New York metropolitan area knew Crazy Eddie, a store that some said had greater name recognition than Coca-Cola.
The pitch was simple: Shop around. Get the best prices you can find. Then go to Crazy Eddie and he’ll beat it! Crazy Eddie’s prices are insaaane!
It was marketing genius; a highly successful hook.
“People still use Crazy Eddie as the gold standard of what a real deal is,” Antar said years later. “They say, ‘I want a Crazy Eddie-type deal.'”
He was helped in part by the fact that he had almost single-handedly broken the rules of the game that had allowed electronics giants like Sony and Panasonic set the price for their goods.
Early on, Crazy Eddie had found a way around the so-called Fair-Trade laws that prohibited retailers from selling products below suggested retail price.
Crazy Eddie grew into a three hundred million dollar business. It quickly opened 43 stores in four states, and then decided to go for the brass ring—taking the company public in a Wall Street stock offering.
But what no one realized was that despite the sales and stores and commercials that branded Crazy Eddie for a generation, what was going on behind the scenes was a massive scam.
Antar wasn’t crazy. He was skimming profits, cheating the IRS and scamming customers, in what was then the biggest retail financial fraud in U.S. history, by adding imaginary stock and falsifying accounts to make it look like sales were surging.
After an outside investor group gained control of Crazy Eddie in late 1987, it all began to fall apart as auditors started going through the books The business filed for bankruptcy, Antar disregarded a court order to return more than $50 million that the government contended represented illegal profits.
In a federal indictment unsealed after he was taken into custody, Antar and other family members were charged with securities fraud, mail fraud and conspiracy to commit securities fraud. They were also charged with obstructing justice by destroying and hiding Crazy Eddie’s business records.
Eddie was also charged by authorities with skimming millions of dollars in cash from the sales of Crazy Eddie stores, using the money to fund an extravagant lifestyle for his family.
“By any measure, this is a staggering securities fraud,” declared Michael Chertoff, then the U.S. Attorney for New Jersey, who told reporters that the Antars had created “a giant bubble” of a company by creating false inventory reports, as well as forged bills for money it owed and was owed.
Before being eclipsed by the much larger Ponzi scheme of con artist Bernie Madoff, and the accounting scandals at Enron, the shell game at Crazy Eddie was considered one of the largest securities frauds ever uncovered. The Securities and Exchange Commission charged that the company’s false financial statements propelled its stock to $79 a share from an initial public offering price of $8 a share.
As the probe by the SEC and U.S. Attorney’s Office grew, Eddie Antar fled the country in 1990 and remained a fugitive until his arrest in Israel in June 1992.
He and his brother, Mitchell, were convicted of stock fraud in 1993, but their convictions were overturned in 1995 on a finding of judicial bias. Both subsequently pleaded guilty instead of facing retrial and Eddie Antar went to jail. After he was released, he returned home to Brooklyn and stayed out of the public eye.
Antar is survived by daughters Simone, Nicole, Noelle and Gabrielle; a son Sammy E. Antar; brothers Mitchell and Allen, and a sister, Ellen Kuszer.
In an interview with The Star-Ledger, Antar would say little about the fraud that brought down his empire, but acknowledged his business would not be soon forgotten.
“Everybody knows Crazy Eddie. What can I tell you?” he remarked. “I changed the business. I changed the whole business.”