His prices are INSANE.
Anyone with a television and a pair of eyes in the 1980s probably remembers that phrase and the commercials that brought it to the world. The ads, for Crazy Eddie electronics stores, featured host Jerry Carroll speaking with the speed of an auctioneer, surrounded by electronics (sometimes floating in a simple blackness, sometimes covered in snow).
At the end of each one, Carroll yelled, “His prices are INSANE.”
The kitschy commercials wormed their way into the American pop culture landscape so deeply that Dan Aykroyd satirized them on “Saturday Night Live” with his character Crazy Ernie. Years later, the animated adult comedy “Futurama” would also poke fun at the commercials.
But the Crazy Eddie chain was more than just a set of amusing commercials — it was a highly successful enterprise that enjoyed tremendous success before collapsing under the weight of federal fraud charges.
Its founder, Eddie Antar, died Saturday. He was 68.
His cause of death has not been made public. The Bloomfield-Cooper Jewish Chapels in New Jersey confirmed Antar’s death to CNNMoney.
Antar, who was born in New York, began the company in 1969 with a single store in Brooklyn. When he brought it public in 1984, its stock price was $8 a share. Two years later, it hit $79, the New York Times reported. The company eventually expanded to 43 locations, stretching from Boston to Philadelphia.
Its success, which of course wrought more commercials, seemed too good to be true.
As turned out, it was too good to be true — the stock collapsed in the late ’80s as a result of what attorney Howard Hawkins Jr., who was involved in lawsuits against Antar, compared to an organized crime “scam.”
In 1992, the New York Times published a story about the collapse of the Crazy Eddie chain.
According to the piece, the stores grew too quickly and began stealing business from one another.
Antar would allegedly strap cash to his body and travel with it to Israel. When he arrived, he would deposit the money into the Bank Leumi of Israel. That money would later be funneled through Panama and mixed in with receipts of Crazy Eddie stores as a means of fooling financial analysts who were watching the company, according to the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Just after the SEC began investigating Antar in 1988, he obtained citizenship in Israel and legally changed his name to Alexander Stewart.
Over the years, Antar, his brothers Mitchell and Allen, and his cousin Eddie Grindi were accused of skimming almost $7 million from the company.
“From 1969 to 1980, our primary fraud was skimming and stealing sales tax,” Eddie’s cousin Sam Antar, who later served six months of house arrest for committing fraud, told NPR in 2011.
“This may not be the biggest stock fraud of all time,” William McLucas, director of enforcement for the SEC, told the New York Times in 1992. “But for outrageousness it is going to be very hard to beat.”
In 1993, Antar was extradited from Israel to the United States, where he was convicted of racketeering and stock fraud charges, but that conviction was overturned in 1995 on a finding of judicial bias, the Star-Ledger in New Jersey reported.
Eventually, he pleaded guilty to one charge of racketeering conspiracy and spent almost seven years in prison, NPR reported.
While his prison stint wasn’t long, his status as a criminal achieved an almost mythical status.
“He is a kind of Darth Vader of capitalism,” then-U.S. Attorney Michael Chertoff in Newark told a judge during Antar’s original sentencing, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported. “You can steal more with a fountain pen than you can with a gun, and this defendant certainly is an example of that.”
Even given his criminal dalliances, Antar was beloved by many.
“He was a character. He was very charming, charismatic, very powerful, very decisive. He was an incredible leader,” Larry Weiss, who helped craft those famous commercials, told the New York Times. “Really everyone in the company idolized him. He was a very cool guy. And then there was the dark side that got him into trouble.”
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