Eddie Antar—better known as "Crazy Eddie," the founder of the now-bankrupt electronics chain known for their hyperactive TV commercials—has died. He was 68.
Antar, who gained his moniker thanks to his aggressive sales techniques, started Crazy Eddie in 1971 with his father Sam M. Antar at their first location on Kings Highway in Brooklyn; Crazy Eddie turned into the largest electronics store in the metropolitan area, aided by their frantic TV and radio commercials, which featured radio announcer Jerry Carroll (people often didn't realize that "Crazy Eddie" wasn't the actual Eddie). At its peak, the company had 43 stores in four states, earning more than $300 million in sales; in 1984, the company held its initial public offering.
Their advertising strategy was to encourage people to find the best prices you could for electronics, then go to Crazy Eddie's, which would beat it. During the '80s, more than 7,500 unique radio and television ads were broadcast in the tri-state area. "People still use Crazy Eddie as the gold standard of what a real deal is," Antar said years later, according to NJ Advance. "They say, 'I want a Crazy Eddie-type deal.'"
But it came out that Antar and his associates had been engaged in various forms of fraud from the company's inception. NJ Advance writes: "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." 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 additionally charged with skimming millions in cash from the sales of Crazy Eddie stores.
“The whole purpose of the business was to commit premeditated fraud,” cousin Sam E. Antar, who was recruited to assist the company with its fraud, told mental_floss earlier this year. “My family put me through college to help them commit more sophisticated fraud in the future. I was trained to be a criminal. People have a certain idea of Crazy Eddie. In reality, it was a dark criminal enterprise."
Sam has spent the last couple years documenting the inside story of the rise and fall of Crazy Eddie and his role in one of the largest securities frauds ever uncovered. Eddie initially fled to Israel in 1990 as he was being investigated by the US Attorney's office, but eventually was caught, pleaded guilty to stock fraud, and served eight years in prison. He has lived out of the public eye in Brooklyn in the years since he was released.
Sam and Eddie had a very uncomfortable family reunion on CNBC a few years ago: