Crazy Eddie’s Craziest Scams

Crazy Eddie’s Craziest Scams

You must have seen the ads (like this). Even if you didn’t live in or around New York, they were infamous. They featured radioman Jerry Carroll—I was disappointed to learn he was not Crazy Eddie himself—who played it loud and just-this-side-of-reality.

Annoying but effective. Turns out, though, as detailed by Gary Weiss in his patient detailing of the rise and fall of Eddie Antar in Retail Gangster: The INSANE, Real-Life Story of Crazy Eddie, that however obnoxious (and funny!) Carroll was in the ads, he was a shy guy in real life.

He couldn’t have been as crazy as the real Eddie anyway. Crazy in the crooked sense. For Eddie Antar, the man behind the stores, was one our greatest con-men. Not in a nice way, either, like in The Sting (read this fascinating review of the train card game cheating scene). This guy and his personal financial tricks was so nasty he could give even the government a bad name.

And city government back then was just as corrupt as it’s now again becoming. Weiss reminds us of sewer-like business practices of the then politicians, the city’s inevitable bankruptcy, and the sad truth that nobody ever paid the price for their destructive actions. This is relevant because Eddie, and everybody else then, was saturated in the routine shiftiness and questionable dealing in the city.

This was surely a tough book to write because of all the details Weiss had to track. It gives us a fresh appreciation for what accountants have to do (which I never could: no patience). He also does a good job with Eddie Antar’s and his family’s sordid details, which I don’t want to emphasize here because I’m keen to get to the scams.

Briefly, Eddit was part of a habitually close group that emigrated from Allepo and settled in the New York Area. Taking care of family was paramount, and because of marriage practices practically everybody was family. They called themselves the “S-Ys”, for Syrian Jewish Community in America.

It was by long habit and custom that many merchants in that group thrived by sharp practices. Like in taking nehkdi, an off-the-books skim off the top, in cash and stuffed in mattresses (yes, actual mattresses, and other hideaways). Eddie himself started out in the family around the Port Authority bus terminal working in clip joints, selling over-priced cameras and cheesy souvenirs. There’s still a few of these places left, now selling Statue-of-Liberty pencil sharpeners and Chinese-made I-heart-NYC t-shirts.

The life of Crazy Eddie is just as depressing as you can imagine, but I’ll leave those details to the book. Weiss telling phrase is “Eddie’s conscience was on a permanent leave of absence.” My interest is in magic, particularly mental magic, which brings me to the scams.

Eddie, like many from the S-Y “community”, ran two sets of books. The one for the government reported fewer sales, which allowed him to pocket sales tax, which was not insubstantial for big-ticket electronics. Margins were thin on many items, so this trick allowed him a small profit, even when selling at cost. Business was usually in cash in those days, too. So he followed family tradition and stuffed the unreported nehkdi into suitcases. Then he’d fly off to Israel and deposit it.

Here’s my favorite, which must still be in play. Watch for it. Customers would come in to Crazy Eddie’s looking for the new top-quality Sony. Salesmen would tell the customers why not save a bunch of money by buying Brand X, which was just as good as Sony, but a lot cheaper? People trusted the salesmen, because he was trying to save the customer money. Only the margins on the Sony were next to nothing, but were huge on Brand X.

“Going to lunch” was a good one. Customer wanted the new stereo system, but they were all sold out, except for the display. That could be sold, but had to have a discount. Yet the customer wanted new, which was promised by the salesman. The salesman would take his time writing up the ticket, telling an associate to “go to lunch”.

Meaning he was to go in the back where the packing of the display models was carefully saved. They had tape and whatnot that resembled the original seals. They even kept the staples for the boxes, which they bent back into shape. Voilà! A “new” stereo.

Eddie bought casualty insurance for the full retail price. And, though Weiss says Eddie never caused any “accidents”, they happened frequently enough in those old buildings in New York. Pipes would break, sewers would back up, and so on.

One night a pipe burst in a store, and the team sprang into action, going to other stores taking from them returns and defective merchandise and bringing it to pipe-burst store, so it could be added to the claim. If the broken pipe wasn’t doing an adequate job, somebody would open the fire hose and wet the merchandise down.

The insurance company would pay, working with Eddie’s hired adjuster, who was also, in a conflict of interest, an employee of an insurer. Eddie’s adjuster would make sure the claims guys at the insurers got a little something, too. Technically, Weiss tells us, the insurer would own the damaged goods, but they never bothered to collect it or see to it that it was destroyed. So Eddie carefully stored it in a warehouse to be ready for the next accident.

One of his relatives had some business sense and suggested an IPO. Then, as now, what affected stock price was sales growth. That was easy to generate, at first, even with flat sales. They just stopped, gradually, stealing the sales tax. They begin to report, for real, off-the-books sales. The nehkdi was less, but the stock price allowed Eddie to cash out, most often obviously to the detriment of the company.

Although some alarms were raised over Eddie’s stock sales, analysts (or rather their companies) had to sell stock. Reviews then were like how critics rate movies now: not daring to pan anything lest the critic lose social stock. This inbreeding allowed Eddie’s scams to escalate to magnificent heights.

For instance, a way to fake the P/E was to swell year-end stock by accounting tricks, like bamboozling the auditors during inventory. Eddie used the old-fashioned way of having pretty girls distract the auditors, who were usually young single men just starting out in accounting. Problem with this is that the fake inventory had to be faked again the next year, and then some, which swelled the inventory on paper.

They sent out faked debit memos to friendly suppliers. These “were essentially bills claiming that the company was owed money.” No money changed hands, but the these were added to the sales.

They scammed manufacturers in ad-comp dollars. And in sending fictional warranty claims. Sharp Electronics became suspicious when they saw Eddie’s submitted claims for “units that they didn’t make.”

The scams, like a pyramid-scheme, became too many to sustain, and Eddie at last fled to Israel. Under real and fictitious names. Where he once again started scamming people.

As far as Eddie’s fate goes, and his family members, well, that is a rich and terrible story I’ll leave for Weiss to tell. Suffice to say that Eddie’s fall begins in being extradited from an Israeli prison (they didn’t want him either), prosecuted in the States, jailed, set free on a technicality, re-tried and re-jailed and then dead at 68 from some unknown illness. Crazy.

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  1. Hagfish Bagpipe

    Crazy indeed. Interesting story. What’s even crazier is we let these shysters run America. The American Empire: it’s Craaaazzzzzzzyyyyyy!

  2. Stan Young

    I will start the list of the greatest modern science scams.
    1. Global cooling/global warming/climate change.

  3. Michael Dowd

    Our government, i.e., Wall Street has the best scam: world reserve fiat currency +military bases around the world + controlled press + pocketed politicians + indifferent and cowed electorate.

  4. Wm Arthurs

    Wasn’t Eddie’s brother sent away to train as a CPA, so that he could learn, from the inside, how auditors could be bamboozled?

    An example of how valuable experience as a “regulator” can be, in this fallen world of today.

    In retrospect, my own training at Andersen in the 1980s came at the tail-end of the era of professional competence. I would not like to be an auditor today, they never get to go out and meet people any more! They have fallen prey to working-at-home, plugged into the matrix, just as much as any other white-collar person, now that finance data and back-up documents tend to be “in the cloud”.

  5. Brian (bulaoren)

    Well do I remember those, annoying, Crazy Eddy commercials, though I hadn’t thought of them in decades.
    The sales jingle was sung by a bunch of leather jacketed young men, hanging out in a men’s room. I always found that ad pitch a bit curious… Anyway, after reading your post, that inane little ear worm is now bouncing around in my head. Thanks a lot!

  6. Inicitadus

    Crazy Eddie is the epitome of the American business model cutting corners on taxes
    is baked in. The entire system is a criminal enterprise Eddie only went to jail because
    he didn’t steal enough. It’s the mob movie syndrome single out the little fish for the
    object lesion splash them all over Big Screen then showcase the real criminals arresting
    them. All set to musical scores waxing ominous to oozing heart swelling pride. In
    America theater is the cornerstone of the con.

  7. McChuck

    Hmm… Eddie was a member of a certain tribe that favors tiny hats and doesn’t consider outsiders to really be people, so they not only could but should be taken advantage of.

    Must be a cohencidence. Again.

  8. Cary D Cotterman

    Stan Young:

    2. Kung-flu hysteria
    3. Transgender cult

  9. Brian(bulaoren)

    Off topic, I know, but I just thunk up a good term which I must share before I forget it; “Judasprudence”. I think AG Garland knows all about it.

  10. Inicitadus

    I stand corrected Eddie never went to jail he wore an ankle monitor under
    house arrest so as not to upset the kiddies. Some people are more equal than
    others he’s giving paid interviews to MSM guppies warning about the wages of
    sin and he reportedly has undisclosed bank accounts in Israel of all places.
    Poor Bernie Madoff was not quite as colorful and made the mistake of stealing
    from the higher tax brackets.

  11. Incitadus

    Sorry I thought that was Eddie in video it’s his CFO Sam Antar guess
    Eddie did go to jail. Really nice people anyone would love to do business

  12. Hagfish Bagpipe

    Thanks for that The Sting clip. Watched a couple more, too. That was a fun movie.

  13. If the drugs trade (illegal) and consequent money laundering was stopped so-called “civilization” would collapse. Money laundering and grift (see legal drugs trade as a for instance) are the only things keeping it afloat.

  14. Overgrown Hobbit

    @McChuck Every insular tight-knit immigrant group has a mafia: Bratva, Tong, Yakusa…

    What is so weird is not that “Bugsy Siegel” and the SYs existed, but that we have no word for them. Now that’s peculiar.

  15. James J. Roper

    Wow, Crazy Eddie epitomizes Donald Trump!

  16. Roper has given up and made his trolling totally blatant. News for you Roper, everybody here thinks Orange Bad Man is as worthless as all the other pieces of filth in positions of political power.

  17. [½OT] Fritz, knock knock
    This anecdote can have happened in dorms with students of facism, marxism, communism, socialism — who object beeing germans.
    In urban germany there was a physical doorbell ringing when you open the door, and you immediately announced ich bin’s — this was voice control before it was mimicked with computer chips [etc] and sold to townsfolk.

  18. Briggs


    Who’s there?

  19. @Briggs, Föhrerhauptquartier, Wolfsschanze, Wachmann Fritz, melde gehorsamst daß

  20. Rhetocrates

    Thanks, Briggs. As someone not from NY I had no idea Crazy Eddie was a thing. On your implicit recommendation I snaffled the book, and I have no regrets.

    I think my favourite part is the constant, true framing that, as dastardly and rich as he became, he was still just a small-timer without much view of what real power, wealth and influence looked like. Fulfilling the American Dream indeed.

  21. Milton Hathaway

    Some saw JJR’s contributions to this comment section as trolling from the get-go. I missed that, although in hindsight it might have been wishful thinking on my part. It’s pretty rare to find someone with an opposing view on a topic who’s view seems rooted in thoughtful evaluation of the differing arguments rather than a stand on principle. Not that principle is bad, if it’s acquired properly, but I’ve found that most discussions I’ve witnessed that are based on principle tend to end up being unenlightening, a mere clash of principles, where neither side goes away questioning their principles. Visualize cavemen repeatedly bashing each other with clubs, their one and only weapon in their arsenal.

    Enlightening is the key word here. I am genuinely curious why people have the beliefs and convictions they do, especially when they differ from mine. I’ve always had a lot of self-doubt – what am I missing? I suppose being an engineer doesn’t help, since a strong conviction that a design should work properly is often shattered by reality.

    Unfortunately, JJR’s convictions pretty quickly were revealed to be based on principle that he was unable to explain in any detail that I found helpful, particularly the missing pieces I view as magical thinking (i.e., dismissing apparent impossibilities as unimportant).

    This has gotten me thinking more about debate and discussion. The vast majority of debate falls into the ‘gotcha’ category, the search for the withering witticism that makes your opponent look like a fool, the audience wandering away shaking their heads at the intellectual mismatch. But invariably these scathing verbal kill shots are non-sequiturs that disintegrate to ethereal dust when later subjected to the illumination of logic, and you realize that yet another opportunity was squandered, and despair at the knowledge that, given human nature, it has to be this way.

    I suppose I’ll have to settle for being entertained more often than enlightened.

  22. @Milton Hathaway it’s why I’m a big fan of trial by combat. Competing assumptions can only be properly resolved by the sword.

  23. How about eludicating the Craziest Scam of the United States of Fink USF:
    subtitle: breeding resignation of job applicants for the sake of defending and increasing corporate goals;

    almost all (88 percent) of the 25 largest listed U.S. companies are owned to a greater or lesser extent by either BlackRock, Vanguard or State Farm (but not only those, also an incalculable number of other, and around the world);

    these juggernaut corporations retain employees so that they cannot help their competition to succeed (this also fills crazy quotas);

    and jobs (already filled) are constantly being (re)advertised for more better talent, to be parked again;

    this self-empowerment leads to constantly rejecting crowds of fresh applicants;

    thus resignation is constantly stirred up in adolescents (who multiply the message and) who are (having been mentally broken by USF juggernauts) then are skimmed off as auxiliaries by FfF and LastG and fresh meat tugs.

    Who will force the United States of Fink to disclose the respective numbers and the damage they do to generations of talents?

  24. James J. Roper

    @Milton Hathaway makes some unwarranted claims. Firstly, I’m not a troll – I am merely stating an alternative perspective on some issues – and readers seem to think that anything that they disagree with is trolling. It’s not.

    Secondly, he stated “JJR’s convictions pretty quickly were revealed to be based on principle that he was unable to explain in any detail” without providing evidence. I have no idea what convictions he refers to, nor why the explanation seemed beyond his ken. Indeed, nothing I referred to ever implied magic or magical thinking – that rests in the realm of creation myths.

    If he wants to be enlightened more than entertained, then he must also be more transparent, and explain exactly what he’s talking about. Otherwise, the ambiguities aren’t even entertaining.

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