A new book looks at the crazy career of Eddie Antar, Crazy Eddie

JTA – Crazy Eddie was a chain of electronics stores that grew from a lot of hype to an empire. Eddie Antar, an entrepreneur, grew a chain of discount stores in the New York area with the help of memorable and gossipy television commercials. The brand became famous for its low prices and the amazing story of the commercial rise of this family of Syrian Jews who fled persecution and started a successful business.

But unfortunately, this business is also based on fraud.

The full story of the rise and fall of Eddie Antar and the Crazy Eddie chain is now the focus of a new book, Retail Gangster: The CRAZY, Real Life Story of Crazy Eddiewritten by investigative journalist Gary Weiss.

The Crazy Eddie’s chain, which closed its doors once and for all in 1989, committed not just one big scam, but dozens of crimes. The firm had been pocketing taxes on its sales for several years. There were many schemes of accounting fraud, warranty fraud, selling old products as new, and questionable statements of the company’s financial results. In addition to it was not — which is Syrian slang for cash transactions — by company executives.

An adventure that ended with the closing of the chain and the arrest of several managers of the firm.

Weiss has long specialized in tales of corporate abuse, and Crazy Eddie’s story is one of the most colorful in recent history. He says he became interested in the project when Eddie’s cousin, Sam E. Antar, whom he worked with and testified strongly in court, started posting comments on the blog. by Weiss in the early 2000s. 2008, Weiss is working on a cahin-jaha book.

“This is a very big story. I mean, it’s expanding,” Weiss says JTA. “It’s a family story, it’s an entrepreneurial story, it’s a business story, it’s a scam story. And it’s also the story of New York in the 1970s and 1980s… It took me a while to weave all of that into a cohesive narrative. »

Weiss, who is Jewish and lives in New York, said he spoke with Antar family members and other sources while pulling information from “voluminous” public records, listing various indictments, investigations, complaints and complaints. Court reports on the Crazy Eddie case.

Weiss says not everyone involved in the story agreed to be interviewed, and Eddie Antar died in 2016 before the writer had a chance to interview him. Nevertheless, of the many people who experienced Crazy Eddie’s wild adventure, Weiss says, he “got something better than an interview: I got their statements almost contemporaneously with the events … their own lips and moments before the events in question. later”.

Although he mostly avoided reporters and was rarely photographed, Eddie Antar left a story full of trivial details that went beyond his many crimes. His first and second wives were both named Deborah, and relatives identified them as “Debbie I” and “Debbie II”. It wasn’t Antar, but the flamboyant Jerry Carroll, who came up with the famous “His prices are crazy” slogan for television commercials, a slogan so enthusiastic that many New Yorkers believed Carroll was behind the Crazy Eddie adventure.

The Antar family belonged to the Syrian Jewish community in New York, known as the “SYs” – a community that played a very important role in the rise of Crazy Eddie. Eddie’s grandparents fled Aleppo, then part of the Ottoman Empire, and settled in Brooklyn in the early 20th century. The crowd was tight, tight. He avoided intermarriage with Ashkenazi Jews and used his community and family ties to succeed in his ready-to-wear and electronics businesses.

Another now-defunct chain of electronics stores, The Wiz, was also founded by a Syrian Jewish family (“Seinfeld” fans sometimes confuse the two chains, thanks to an episode in which Carroll’s antics to promote Crazy Eddie were combined with the slogan “beats the Wiz” on a rival device did the heyday of the chain’s commercials.And Jerry Seinfeld’s real-life mother actually belonged to the Syrian Jewish community).

Belonging to this community, according to Weiss, “shaped Eddie Antar because he was the product of a very isolated society, an immigrant society that had been persecuted by the Ottomans and Arabs for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. It was this history of persecution that made certain business habits at the time – led to the development of the use of cash and mistrust of the government.

However, he adds, “It’s a mistake to see some kind of Jewish or Syrian Jewish character in Eddie. He was a criminal.” Weiss notes that in interviews later in his life, Antar would blame his “culture” for his fate.

Author Gary Weiss discusses the rise and fall of Eddie Antar and the Crazy Eddie chain in his new book. (Credit: Hachette Book Group/Anjali Sharma/ via JTA)

“But Syrian Jewish culture was not a criminal culture. It was a culture of persecution,” notes Weiss. “Maybe you didn’t want to give your money to the sultan. Maybe you’d get a lot more by paying cash. But the culture of the Syrian Jews was… a culture of survival in the face of a hostile government. I think we have to be careful not to think of Eddy as an embodiment of Syrian Jewish culture, which he absolutely was not. »

While Eddie Antar strongly identifies with his Jewish background, it is difficult to determine his true level of religiosity. He hid large sums of money in Israel and fled there in 1990 before being charged. During his tenure in the Jewish State, he continued to commit crimes and commit fraud, notably using the alias “David Jacob Levi Cohen.” Weiss notes in the book that even notorious mobster Meyer Lansky was law-abiding during his brief exile in the Jewish state in the 1970s.

Eddie had been in Israel for two and a half years. When he was repatriated to the United States, he accused the judge of anti-Semitism.

“It’s hard to believe that a man who mocks the Law of Return would have such respect for religion,” Weiss exclaimed.

Eddie Antar, right, the New York electronic king formerly known as “Crazy Eddie,” is escorted by an Israeli police investigator in Petah Tikva, Israel, June 25, 1992. (Credit (Sven Nackstrand/AFP via Getty Images/JTA)

At its peak, the Crazy Eddie chain boasted more than 40 stores and had no shortage of imitators, including “Meshuganah Ike. However, what ultimately brought Crazy Eddie down was the firm’s insanity and inability to hide its financial records and fraudulent profits as a public company.

Antar received six years in jail and prison, and six years after his death, his victims are still trying to recover some of the money he stole.

Even with computers, the Internet, digital ledgers and post-Eron accounting laws, Weiss believes a scam like Eddie’s probably wouldn’t be cracked any faster if it happened today. .

“I don’t think there will be any difference,” says Weiss. “I don’t think analysts are any more skeptical today than they were thirty years ago. I don’t think the public should be more skeptical. I don’t think regulators are getting better; neither do accounting firms. I think the general environment that Eddie was able to use, the general regulation and the business environment… I think that environment is not very pleasant for Eddie as a fabric con artist right now – even a little bit. The proof of this, I think, is a [Bernie] Madoff… If you look at Madoff, he was able to continue his fraud in the first decade of the 21st century. »

The book contains many familiar Jewish names. Stanley Chera, a real estate tycoon and friend of former US President Donald Trump who died at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, was close to the Antar family. Michael Chertof, the son of a rabbi who served as secretary of national security in the Bush administration, prosecuted Eddie Antar in a criminal trial. Raoul Felder, a well-known divorce attorney and prominent New York media personality, represented the original Debbie in her divorce from Eddie.

“Crazy” Eddie Antar, center, founder of the Crazy Eddie electronics chain, wears handcuffs after being extradited from Israel, January 11, 1993. (AP Photo/Dan Hulshizer, file)

As for Crazy Eddie’s legacy, there have been several failed attempts by members of the Antar family to revive the Crazy Eddie brand in modern society and legally, most likely in 2009. There is also a Facebook group with nearly 900 members that brings former Crazy Eddie employees together to share their memories.

There have been various initiatives to present this saga on the big screen. In 2009, Danny DeVito announced plans to develop and direct a movie about Crazy Eddie with the cooperation of the then-still-living Eddie Antar – a plan that fell apart due to fears that investors in the channel would decide to buy the directors. to court.

In 2019, “Benjamin Gates and the Treasure of the Temple” director John Turteltaub was rumored to be making his own Mad Eddie movie, titled “Mad,” with screenwriter Peter Steinfeld, who also worked on DeVito’s film. a film that ultimately never saw the light of day. No other information about this project has been leaked in the past three years.

Weiss’s book is dedicated to the “victims” of fraud. Who are these victims?

Eddie’s first wife, Debbie, claimed that her husband had hit her once and also made numerous promises about a divorce settlement that would never materialize – until she won an empty legal victory when there was no more money to recover. . But there were also many victims financially.

“I think the victims are the shareholders, the people who bought the shares,” Weiss said. “Investors, customers – because customers have been victims of various intrigues, from parties to second-hand devices sold as new. I heard someone say “but they got a good deal” in defense of Crazy Eddie. No, those people never did a good job. Crazy Eddie had a reputation for offering the cheapest prices, but these people were duped.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *