By Gary Weiss
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Back in the fall of 2016 we heard the news about the passing of Eddie Antar, "Crazy Eddie" as he was known to millions of people, the man behind the successful chain of electronic stores and one of the most iconic ad campaigns in history. Few things evoke the New York of a particular era the way "Crazy Eddie! His prices are insaaaaane!" does. The journalist Herb Greenberg called his death the "end of an era" and that couldn't be more true. What's insane is that his story has never been told.
Before Enron, before Madoff, before The Wolf of Wall Street, Eddie Antar's corruption was second to none. The difference was that it was a street franchise, a local place that was in the blood stream of everyone's daily life in the 1970s and early '80s. And Eddie pulled it off with a certain style, an in your face blue collar chutzpah. Despite the fact that then U.S. Attorney Michael Chertoffcalled him "the Darth Vader of capitalism" after the extent of the fraud was revealed, one of the largest SEC frauds in American history after Crazy Eddie's stores went public in 1984, Eddie was talked about fondly by the people who worked for him. They still do–there are myriads of ex-Crazy Eddie employee web pages that still attract fans, and the Crazy Eddie fraud scheme is now taught in every business school across the United States.
Many years have passed since the franchise went down in spectacular fashion but Crazy Eddie's moment has endured the way that iconic brands and characters do–one only need Google the media outpouring that accompanied his death. Maybe it's because it crystallized everything about 1970s New York almost perfectly, the merchandise and rise of consumer electronics (stereos!), the ads (cheesy!), the money (cash!). In Retail Gangster, investigative journalist Gary Weiss takes readers behind the scenes of one of the most unbelievable business scam stories of all time, a story spanning continents and generations, reaffirming the old adage that the truth is often stranger than fiction.
EARLY IN JANUARY 1987, THREE MEN OF MODEST STATURE, WEARING TAILORED suits and long black overcoats, arrived at a five-story town house on East Sixty-Seventh Street in Manhattan. This was the heart of the Gold Coast, which stretched a mile up Fifth Avenue from Fifty-Ninth Street and east for two blocks, a neighborhood (if one could call it that) unique in the city for its ostentatious embrace of unapologetic greed and the good fortune that comes from careful selection of parents. No. 15 was designed in 1904 by Ernest Flagg, a noted architect of the period, as the residence of a well-born man of leisure and occasional biplane pilot named Cortlandt Field Bishop. It was derivative in appearance, with faux Parisian balconies and other frills that were fashionable at the time. Many of the residences in this area had been converted into consulates and private clubs over the years. This one was now the Regency Whist Club. Wealthy men played an obscure card game here, and occasionally they invited for lunch people they wanted to impress.
Sam E. Antar thought that setting aside a town house for playing cards was an absurd waste of prime real estate. But that was none of his business. The people who lived on this street felt that they had to flaunt their wealth. The Antars did not. Sam had an apartment in a middle-class section of Brooklyn. He and his two colleagues were born there, which could be heard when they spoke. They were products of the working class. They didn’t call it that. They didn’t call it anything. But they wouldn’t have minded if other people described them that way, and neither would they have cared if anyone told them that they had achieved the American Dream. It was a cliché, it was trite, it was shunned, it was mocked—but for them, it was true.
They were separated by one generation from the Bahsita, the crowded and disease-ridden Jewish quarter of Aleppo, Syria. Their parents and grandparents had run shabby stores in dreary neighborhoods. They overcame obstacles that would have humbled less dogged men. And now they were on the Gold Coast, about to meet one of the most eminent men in their business. He wanted to meet them.
It was nothing personal; it was a tribute to their company. From the moment its first television commercials aired in 1976, with a revved-up disc jockey named Jerry Carroll screaming, “HIS PRICES ARE INSANE!” Crazy Eddie had been a phenomenal success. It was more than a chain of thirty-two stores, stretching from Philadelphia to New England, that sold stereos, records, VCRs, clock radios, and television sets. It was more than a Wall Street superstar. It embodied the indomitable, sometimes malevolent spirit of New York City.
These men didn’t much care. Only the numbers mattered to them. They were hard, cynical men. But it was true—it was provable fact—that Crazy Eddie was as much a symbol of the city as the Brooklyn Bridge and the World Trade Center. Everyone knew Crazy Eddie. Not its reclusive founder, Sam’s cousin Eddie Antar, but the Jerry Carroll character and the stores, with their garish yellow signs and “crazy man” trademark, which was plastered on newspaper ads and stock certificates and on T-shirts, mugs, hats, and other memorabilia eagerly snapped up by Crazy Eddie fans. Imagine that—fans of a store!
Eddie and his team had tapped into something. They hadn’t planned it, but they had done it. In 1985 a survey found that the Carroll character was better known to New Yorkers than the publicity hound Mayor Ed Koch. A year later, the stores had 99 percent name recognition, higher than Ronald Reagan. Its patrons ranged from ordinary people to celebrities to junkies—a popular brand of smack was called “Crazy Eddie.”
And now all they had built might go up in smoke.
The three men were here because Crazy Eddie was “in play.” That was a phrase used by the press to denote a company likely to be taken over in the near future. It was an emotion as much as it was a description. If said often enough by the right people or the right media, you were in play. Then it had the effect of a For Sale sign planted on a lawn—except that the companies so designated had no voice in the matter. It was happening all over the country. Corporate raiders were buying up companies and squeezing them for every last nickel. They snapped up steel mills, airlines, retail chains, and manufacturers, treating them as if they were derelict houses that needed gut renovation. The people who worked for them were the guts that were renovated.
Crazy Eddie was vulnerable. It was a widely known brand, and it could be bought on the cheap. Its once-soaring stock price had ebbed in recent months, and reports of high-level turmoil encouraged potential acquirers. Sam’s widely admired cousin had quit as chief executive officer for unspecified “personal reasons” just a few days before. Reports of Eddie’s poor health were circulating in the press. In his absence, the company was run by the newly appointed members of an “Office of the President”: Sam, the chief financial officer; Eddie’s brother Mitchell, in charge of operations; and Isaac “Ike” Kairey, an old friend of Eddie’s, who oversaw the stores. The triumvirate was an unusual arrangement, underlying the executive suite malaise that was said to beset this otherwise pristine and, experts agreed, outstanding company.
Over the years, Crazy Eddie had been blessed with extraordinary profit growth. The result was that its shares soared nearly 1,100 percent in the two years after they began trading in September 1984. Eddie Antar and his team had an almost magical ability to make the cash registers ring even during difficult times. Yet because of the takeover mania that was sweeping the country, its 2,250 employees might be fired in droves unless a corporate savior, a “white knight,” bought the company but kept it intact.
Not long after Eddie quit, a very wealthy man named Milton Petrie let it be known that he might fill that role. Oppenheimer & Co., Crazy Eddie’s Wall Street bankers, promptly arranged for a luncheon meeting at the Regency Whist Club. This was an ancient and arcane card game, a precursor to contract bridge, a game of skill requiring a prodigious memory. One had to remember the cards that had been dealt. Milton Petrie hadn’t forgotten any of the hands he had been dealt in his life. Few had been certain winners.
Petrie had worked his way to the Gold Coast and had far more in common with the Antars than he did with Cortlandt Field Bishop. He was an old-school merchant, and like the Antars he was from an immigrant background. His father was born in Russia, settled in Salt Lake City, and opened a pawnshop in the 1890s. He gave it the grand name Utah Collateral Bank. It failed. No worries. This was America, the land of opportunity, so Jacob Petrovitzky changed course. He moved the family to Indianapolis, left storekeeping behind, and became a cop. His son changed his name but retained the doughtiness. Starting with a hosiery shop in Cleveland, Milton Petrie overcame a rocky start in Horatio Alger fashion, went bankrupt in his early years, but eventually established a highly profitable chain of discount women’s clothing stores. He bought more and more chains and became a retailing magnate, but not feared and hated like Sam Walton. His stores were an integral part of their communities, not big-box alien implants.
Petrie was a sharp investor in his later years, buying up Toys “R” Us stock when it sold in the pennies. He was now eighty-four years old, an elder statesman of retailing, a billionaire who lived like one in a grand building around the corner on Fifth Avenue. Laurance Rockefeller was a neighbor.
Sam was impressed by Petrie’s background but not intimidated by it. What made him intimidating was that he wasn’t intimidating. He was, by all accounts, gentle and generous. He helped ordinary people down on their luck, total strangers he read about in the papers. When a police detective was slain by the mob, he established a trust fund for the cop’s four daughters. His will was constantly expanding and, in time, would grow to 120 pages, setting up trust funds and gifts, ranging from $5,000 to $15 million, for 383 people. Petrie did good for the sake of doing good. That gave Sam a weird, unfamiliar feeling.
The three Office of the President members were escorted into an elevator, taken to an upper floor, and ushered into a formal dining room. The old man was taller than expected, towering over the men as he cordially greeted them. His handshake was firm as he peered at each of them with sharp hazel eyes beneath furry brows, but he was stooped and Sam noticed that he looked his age. A butler waited on them.
“So, how is your sick brother?” Petrie asked Mitchell. There was a look in his eye when he said that. Did he doubt that Eddie was really sick? That possibility crossed Sam’s mind.
After some small talk about conditions in the industry, Petrie casually asked, “Do you want to do a takeover? How would you feel if I took over your company and kept you guys around?” It was what they wanted to hear, but Sam was uncertain. What was Petrie really thinking? Sam now realized why they were at the Regency Whist Club and not his office. They were in a high-stakes card game, and they couldn’t see the hand they were playing. But Sam had the odd sensation that Petrie could see every one of their cards.
As the men and their host ate their specially ordered kosher meals, Sam’s anxiety grew. A petrifying thought crossed his mind. That look in his eye. Perhaps he imagined it. Perhaps not. Could Petrie have known that Sam had planted those illness rumors in the press? If he knew that, could he have known all the other things they were hiding? That this loud company with the goofy public image was toppling over, bloated, burdened by years of fraud? That Eddie stole from everyone in sight? Even the “crazy man” trademark was swag, an almost exact copy of a Robert Crumb character. The financial statements that Petrie had carefully studied could have been set to music by Dave Frishberg. They were a blizzard of lies.
If Petrie took over Crazy Eddie, there were only two possibilities: he would either uncover the frauds and they would go to prison, or this very decent old man would become their next victim. It was then that Sam identified the unfamiliar emotion that had overcome him—shame.
AS FAR BACK AS HE CAN REMEMBER, SAM E. ANTAR RECALLS WATCHING cash pile up on his uncle’s kitchen table. After every trip out of town, his uncle would place the stiff-sided valise onto the table, snap open the brass latches, and out would come the cash.
Uncle Sam—Sam M. Antar—was pretty much head of the family by the mid-1960s, when his nephew started hanging around. Sammy, as he was known in the family, was a slightly built, bookish kid. His father, Sam M.’s younger brother Eddy, wasn’t around much. Most days he was two hours away in downtown Bridgeport, the fading Connecticut city where he had a children’s clothing store. Sam M. and his sons—Eddie, Allen, and Mitchell—became a kind of surrogate family. They lived not far away, in an attached house on East Third Street in Gravesend, a tranquil Italian-Jewish neighborhood in southern Brooklyn. Sam M. was gone a lot as well, but unlike Eddy he was not tied to a store in a dismal city. Sam M. would be traveling through the country, doing business, cutting deals, and would return not beaten down by demanding customers but “like Marco Polo,” with tales of the great and the peculiar that he encountered on the road. Then he would unload the cash.
Sam M. was the eldest son of Murad Antar, the family patriarch. Becoming the head of the family was a birthright, and the cash piling on his kitchen table in Gravesend brought him to that status while he was in his forties. Murad was revered as part of the generation that had come to America from Syria decades earlier. He had done well for decades, but by the mid-1960s his financial fortunes were on the wane. By the late 1970s he owned a sprawling house on Ocean Parkway, not far from Sam M., but not much else. Unlike Murad, a quiet and reserved man, Sam M. was outgoing and bombastic. He was a window trimmer—a designer of store window displays—and that gave him insights into retailing opportunities everywhere he went. He started buying into stores in the 1950s, and by the 1960s Sam M. had a string of part-owned stores from Brooklyn to Jersey City to Nogales, Arizona, selling everything from shoes to toasters to transistor radios.
The window-trimming business and the stores were lucrative, or so he used to say. He claimed to net $10,000 to $20,000 from each of his window displays, good money at the time, though there’s no way to know for sure, and Sam M. had a tendency to embellish. Many years later, a federal judge would conclude that he had “obtained a rather clear sense of [Sam M.] as hardworking, ambitious, and highly intelligent. I also found him to be a skillful and inveterate liar.” Still, the cash was real enough. He may have lied about how much was in the piles, and if so, what of it? He was accountable to no one, not his family, and certainly not the Internal Revenue Service.
Sam M. would swiftly and expertly sort the bills into denominations, count them, and put them in stacks. Two rubber bands meant fifty to a bundle. Most of the stacks had two rubber bands. A single rubber band meant fewer than fifty bills, and the number would be written in ballpoint pen on the top bill of the stack. He would climb a stepladder in the bedroom closet, lift a loose ceiling panel, and carefully place the cash in the space above it. Or he would put the cash in a file drawer or carefully layer the bills inside a radiator cabinet, snug against the pipes. Some of it went to the bank, and some went to his wife Rose to run the house. But most of the cash went into the ceiling, the bed, or whatever other hiding places were available.
This was the nehkdi, as it was known among Syrians, and it offered a number of benefits. The principal one was, of course, that it was not shared with the government. Employees would get paper bags of cash, off the books, sparing everyone involved the nuisance of paying payroll taxes. Since their wages were tax free, without withholdings, employees would take home more money—quite a bit more—than they’d have gotten from employers who paid the same salaries but had a more fastidious approach to the tax laws. Having all that cash around was no big deal. Sammy later recalled: “It wasn’t something explained. Our dads didn’t sit us down and say, ‘This is nehkdi.’ We just saw and copied, as kids always do. It was part of our early childhood development: reading, writing, and skimming.”
A story was told in the family about the time Murad was carrying thousands of dollars in cash on him and believed that somebody was following him. So he left it in a store run by a fellow Syrian. He said, “Do me a favor, can I just leave this bag here?” The man had the bag for more than a month and a half, two months. He finally called up Murad, who said, “Oh, I forgot the money.” People leave their checkbooks absentmindedly, and Murad did the same with his cash. That was the message of the story, that and the fact that, at times, the Antar family elder did very well financially.
Nehkdi and aversion to paying taxes were a leftover habit from Ottoman Syria, where few services were provided to the populace by the Turkish rulers except conscription and taxation. Murad and his wife Tera left Syria for America in 1920. It was a good time to get out.
The largest Syrian Jewish community was not in the fabled city of Damascus but the less celebrated, but equally ancient, walled city of Aleppo. It was the commercial hub of northern Syria, a way station on the Silk Road to China, and had been home to a sizable Jewish community since biblical times. Most Jewish residents were employed in the souks or ran tiny mercantile businesses and lived in the cramped Bahsita, the Jewish quarter. But wherever they lived, they were subjected to discrimination. Christians and Jews were dhimmis, second-class citizens, “tolerated but not equal.” A special tax, the jizya, was imposed on the Jewish and Christian minorities. But Muslim Syrians were not exempt from the Ottoman obsession with taking their money.
The pashas—provincial governors—bought their titles and demanded tribute from their subjects like Mafia dons. Pashas “were sent to ‘squeeze’ the inhabitants of the town, and they were ‘squeezed’ themselves in return,” a nineteenth-century British consul remarked. Jewish communal life under the Ottomans was changing at the dawn of the twentieth century—for the worse. Jewish people had avoided conscription, and the forced assimilation that came with it, by paying a special tax, but that was ended by the Young Turks in the early twentieth century. Then came World War I and still more violence and hardship. A good segment of Jewish Syrians flocked to New York, where they were a tiny minority in a great sea of Jewish refugees fleeing oppression in Eastern Europe.
The center of Syrian Jewish life in early-twentieth-century New York was a dreadful street on the Lower East Side that was “quite unfit for human habitation,” according to a New York Times editorial published after conditions had improved somewhat. The noise alone made life on this street difficult to bear, but its inhabitants—the poorest of the poor—had little choice. Allen Street was barely thirty feet from curb to curb (twenty-four feet, according to one account), yet the city rammed through the Second Avenue Elevated train line in 1880. That civic improvement gave “the street of perpetual shadow” an ambience “more of a tunnel than a street.” Opium dens abounded, and Allen Street had the highest concentration of brothels in the city. One writer observed that “there beneath the roar [of the elevated trains] an open market in human flesh is conducted. In front of every house there stand women of every age and they call to passerby to buy their flesh.”
Murad and Tera arrived in New York Harbor on June 20, 1920, on the SS France. They traveled second class, as was far more common for immigrants than is now assumed. Doing so meant one disembarked in Manhattan and, unlike third class, avoided the nasty uniformed inspectors at Ellis Island. Murad was listed on the manifest as seventeen and a “teacher.” Actually, he was a twenty-year-old merchant, an occupation shared by the bulk of Syrian Jewish immigrants in Syria and in their new home. Syrians avoided the dismal, low-paying garment-assembly plants that abounded in the city and were the principal employers of Jewish “greenhorns.” Instead, they usually went into business for themselves. If they had some capital, they opened modest stores. If they didn’t, they became peddlers, selling tablecloths, handkerchiefs, and other dry goods from pushcarts and handcarts. A rabbi who worked with Syrian immigrants observed that “though there are many poor in the community, it is on the whole comparatively prosperous.”
The two communities, Syrian (they called themselves “S-Y”) and Eastern European (known unaffectionately among the Syrians as “J-Dubs”), went on divergent paths in America. “Eastern European Jews showed almost from the beginning of their arrival in this country a passion for education that was unique in American history,” observed Nathan Glazer and Daniel Patrick Moynihan in their 1970 book Beyond the Melting Pot. “My son the doctor” became a cliché, but not among the Syrians. “The Syrian immigrants, unlike their Eastern European counterparts, did not leap to the educational opportunities which the Ashkenazeem [immigrants from Eastern Europe] sought for their children,” observed a Syrian Jewish writer, Joseph A. D. Sutton. Their reluctance stemmed from the assimilation that came with education. Syrian immigrants “wished to avoid as much as possible the acculturation and assimilation of their children, ‘Americanization,’ that had affected almost all other ethnic and religious immigrant groups.” They largely succeeded, and one result was that S-Ys retained a strong Jewish identity and a vibrant religious life into the twenty-first century. That has long been a source of great pride within the community.
Another by-product of the resistance to assimilation was occupational. Though Syrian Jewish youth began pursuing professional careers as the years passed, Sutton noted in 1979 that “as a rule many follow enterprises similar to those of their fathers.” That meant joining the family business, which was usually retail, or starting one themselves. “By conforming to their fathers’ mores they could look to comfortable and remunerative places in the parents’ businesses, and eventually to becoming their successors,” he wrote. “Why, then, abandon the traditional mode of life of the Syrian community with its many rewards and satisfactions?”
Why indeed. So it was unremarkable that all of the Antars’ six children went to work in stores in their teens, and that only Eddy finished high school. Though assimilation was anathema, American values were embraced. Military service was not feared as it was in Syria, and S-Y lads eagerly joined up after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Sam M. and Eddy both served in the Army in Europe during World War II, with Eddy seeing fierce combat with the engineers during the final bloody months of the conflict. Another son, Norman, served during the Korean War.
After the war, Sam M. married Rose Tawil, the daughter of an S-Y dry-goods salesman. Sam turned twenty-five in May 1946, ready to take his place in the community. The couple settled in Brooklyn near their parents, and began to raise a family. Their first offspring was due at the end of 1947. Many prospective parents agonized about naming the baby, but the process was simplified for Syrian Jewish people. The firstborn son was named after the father’s father. The secondborn son was named after the mother’s father, and similar rules applied to girls. This resulted in duplicative names, so S-Ys used spelling variations to avoid confusion.1
The community’s naming conventions were more than usually important for Sam M. Antar—because he didn’t follow them. A boy was born to Sam M. and Rose on December 18, 1947. He should have been named Mark, which was how Murad was usually Anglicized. Instead, Sam M. and Rose named their newborn baby boy Eddie, which was Ezra Anglicized.
This departure from tradition raised eyebrows, but Sam and Murad had a ready explanation. Murad’s long-dead brother Ezra had appeared to Murad in a dream. Ezra had died young in the late 1930s, leaving an infant son, Solomon. The boy had barely known his father. Ezra, deceased but fearful, was concerned that Solomon might not follow custom when he grew up and had kids. What a shame it would be if no child were ever named after him! Ezra pleaded with his brother. If Sam M.’s first child was a boy, could he please name the baby after Ezra? Murad woke up in a cold sweat. Of course he would comply with this small, understandable request from the Great Beyond.
The “dream story” was a beautiful, sentimental tale, and it was also a lie. Sam M. had a secret. Few in the family knew that he couldn’t name his baby Mark because he already had a son—his true firstborn son—and had given him that name. Sam M. had already been married and divorced. And his first wife was an affront not just to Murad and Tera, but to the entire Syrian Jewish community—not because of anything she had done, but because of who she was.
Public records sketch out an intriguing if incomplete account of Sam M. Antar’s secret family. It’s a story that has its roots in the Levant and the quest for a better life in America, very much like Murad and Tera’s voyage from Aleppo.
Early in 1942 Sam was employed at a linen shop in Akron, Ohio, probably owned by Murad or a family friend. An hour’s drive away in Youngstown, a young woman named Matile Aeube had recently broken with her husband, with whom she’d had three children. She was from Zahlé, a Greek Catholic town in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, and had immigrated with her new Syrian American husband in February 1930. Matile was young. Very young. The ship’s manifest gives her age as seventeen, but public records establish that Matile was fourteen when she arrived in New York Harbor on the SS Byron, and apparently was a child of thirteen when she married Joseph Davis back in Lebanon.
The Davises moved to Youngstown and proceeded to have children. The first, a daughter, came when Matile was fifteen. A son and another daughter followed. Joseph struggled to support the family, working first in a candy shop and then as an elevator operator in a downtown office building. The latter job was paying a paltry $1,200 a year in 1940. Marriages survived in less bleak circumstances back then, but this one did not. They divorced sometime after the Census taker came by in April 1940. Then Matile somehow, somewhere, met Sam M., and by the end of 1941 she was pregnant. They were married in Albuquerque on February 25, 1942, and settled in Los Angeles, where Matile had dreams of becoming a dancer. She came without her three children, who remained in Youngstown with her ex-husband.
It’s easy to imagine the horror felt by Murad and Tera at their eldest son marrying a Christian Arab woman who was six years older, divorced, already had three kids, and was three months pregnant with his child. The Syrian Jewish community was adamantly opposed to intermarriage even when the non-Jewish spouse converted. In 1935 a Syrian beth din rabbinical court in Brooklyn expressed outrage at Jewish-Gentile unions and forbade all marriage-related conversions, which it described as “absolutely invalid and worthless.” Any such person, their spouse, and their offspring were not to be accepted in the community. This was not a small matter for a young Syrian Jewish man, especially if he intended to follow traditional career paths as Sam M. surely did.
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- "A compact and appealing account of Crazy Eddie’s artificially inflated rise and slow-mo collapse… Subcutaneously, Retail Gangster is a tender requiem for a time [past] … But the meat of this limber book is its investigation into the deep family drama and funny money behind Crazy Eddie.”—New York Times
- "Highbrow brilliant."—New York Magazine
- "[A] fast-paced, entertaining narrative… Mr. Weiss is an enthusiastic storyteller, and he does a terrific job synthesizing a dizzying amount of information.”—Wall Street Journal
"Weiss’s irresistible account of the life of Eddie Antar, a small-time huckster and high school dropout who became a wealthy merchant, securities fraudster, fugitive and convict, is also a tale of the rise of consumer electronics in America and a fond portrait of the sleazy, disintegrating city that was New York in the 1970s."—Washington Post
- "A must-read... Weiss deftly weaves the family story, with the New York Zeitgeist of the 1970s and 1980s, along with the rather complicated frauds committed by the Sam and Eddie Antar. In other words, he turns the complicated and baffling into simple and understandable. This book is worth your time, and Weiss should be saluted for his work."—Forbes
- "It's a very good and highly entertaining book, and a very good reminder that the scammers we know now in the startup world have plenty of history to call their own."—NPR's "Pop Culture Happy Hour"
- “A rollicking chronicle of malignity, criminality, and family intrigue. The book not only documents Antar’s nefarious antics in lucid detail. It also evokes the saga of the Syrian Jews who fled the depredations of their Turkish overlords for the promised land of America in the early 20th century and prospered, mostly honestly, beyond their dreams.”—Commentary
- "Wonderfully told."—Crain's New York Business
- "Extraordinary."—Philadelphia Inquirer
- "It’s a rare business book from which you learn about an important industry and the methods of a criminal enterprise, all while shaking with laughter at the human beings involved as they attempt to rip off everyone in sight from customers to insurance companies to their own family members... Weiss writes up this tale of crime and punishment with great New York verve, delivering a probing examination of a profane way of doing business."—Washington Free Beacon
- "...Weiss brings his own gifts--a penchant for exhaustive research and a remarkably straightforward style--to bear upon a very complicated and twisty tale."—Federal Lawyer
- “Weiss paints an intricate portrait of greed, aspiration, and complicated family ties… A compellingly readable story about a con artist who 'epitomized the duality of the American Dream.'"—Kirkus
“Crazy Eddie was one of the most brazen, longest-running frauds in history. For twenty years, the criminal mastermind Eddie Antar fooled everyone he came into contact with, from Wall Street 'masters of the universe' to the government, the media and the people who came into his stores. Eddie went no higher than junior high school—the first of his many crimes was truancy—but that did not hamper him. He was as brilliant as he was dishonest. As detailed in this enthralling book, Crazy Eddie was a merchandising phenomenon as well as a world-class con game. Eddie might have been a successful businessman had he not sought the American Dream through crime.
Retail Gangster ties together all the strands of the Crazy Eddie story in an immensely readable and enjoyable narrative, filled with fascinating characters, astounding subplots, and more plot twists than a pretzel.”
—Frank W. Abagnale Jr., New York Times bestselling author of Catch Me if You Can
“Eddie Antar, what a shtarker! Whew! It’s so strange to me that I am even peripherally a part of the story of Crazy Eddie! How can this be?! I wonder who it was that saw my Zap Comix cover and suggested using it for their logo.
“Gary Weiss has done the world a service in having taken pains to lay out in all its sleazy detail the myriad ways that these guys conned everyone — the customers, the government, even Wall Street, even each other! Wow! And Weiss did it with humor. I occasionally found myself laughing, as when reading ‘churning out so much bogus paperwork required dishonesty on an industrial scale.’ The shenanigans are often described in this whimsical manner, which, while revealing bad behavior, is easier on the reader than if Weiss had used an indignant, outraged tone. You know, the absurd tragic comedy of it all, of gross human behavior, the layers of chicanery, the relentless lying and deceiving, the elaborate deceptions Weiss describes. The details are all of interest, and the effect is cumulative. Anyway, me, I want to know it all.
The question arises, how commonplace is such behavior in the business world, in big corporations, in banking and finance, in government agencies? How exceptional, or how typical, is the Antar family? There’s no way to know, I guess, unless somebody does a dedicated, long-term investigation of a specific company or organization or agency. The stuff about investment analysts and 'investment relations' and all that was very informative. I mean, who knew? I had no idea, although, being a suspicious character by nature, I suspect them all of liking ‘the feeling of pulling the wool over the consumers’ eyes.' The average working-class person doesn’t stand a chance, the way things are set up, by evil geniuses like Eddie Antar. God help us. We need a frickin’ army of investigative journalists like Weiss.”
—Robert Crumb, cartoonist, creator of Fritz the Cat and Keep on Truckin'
“I would say that Retail Gangster reads like a Grisham thriller, only no one could have invented the absurd characters that populated the carnival of chaos called Crazy Eddie. Alternately hilarious, unbelievable and jaw-dropping, Gary Weiss’s superb book explores the shifting boundaries of truth and lies, love and betrayal. Between depictions of vicious family drama, pathological greed, and massive fraud, it lays bare the worst of the go-go 1980s, exposing Wall Street analysts and executives as the handmaidens of this deception that wrecked untold numbers of investors. If you want to understand the types of financial dishonesty that will continue to haunt our markets long into the future, read this indispensable history of Eddie Antar and his unbelievable family.”
—Kurt Eichenwald, award-winning journalist and New York Times bestselling author of The Informant, Conspiracy of Fools and A Mind Unraveled
- “An absorbing and revealing treatise on the underbelly of the American Dream, where scam artists and businessmen are one and the same, and the fruits of their labor—in this case an iconic ad campaign once familiar to all New Yorkers—was the byproduct of criminal chutzpah and greed. Retail Gangster will turn you inside out and have you reading late into the night.”—T.J. English, author of Dangerous Rhythms, Havana Nocturne, and The Savage City
- “A hi-fidelity dive into the complex and contradictory world of a kid who rode the American dream from immigrant Brooklyn to the coveted throne of New York discount electronics—and then to prison. A deeply reported and sensitive snapshot of the retail legend known as ‘Crazy Eddie,’ and of the place that lifted him up and brought him down.”—Matti Friedman, author of Who by Fire and The Aleppo Codex
- "This would be a remarkable work of fiction, except this tale of one man’s audacious addiction to fraud is true. Retail Gangster is destined to go down as a classic in the annals of public-company fraud. With his history of tracking gangsters, there was nobody better to tell that story than Gary Weiss."—Herb Greenberg, veteran financial journalist and commentator
“If you lived in NYC in the late-1970s you we’re driven mad by Crazy Eddie commercials. But you shopped there just to see if he put his money where his big mouth was. You also wondered about the real Brooklyn guy behind the hype. In RETAIL GANGSTER, Gary Weiss takes you behind the ads and the loud dazzle into the truly insane life of Eddie Antar and with brilliant research, confident storytelling skills, and colorful anecdotes and a startling eye for the telling detail he takes us on a guided tour of audacious treachery and fraud that might have been the template for the Madoffs of the financial netherworld. You can’t stop reading this crazy tale because you keep thinking this can’t get anymore insane. And then it does. And what’s craziest of all is that it’s all true.”
—Denis Hamill, Ex-NY Daily News columnist, and author of Fork in the Road
- “What a romp! With clarity and riveting detail, Weiss describes the rise and fall of a retail legend, and does it with the panache of Crazy Eddie himself—but without the lies. Rarely has accounting fraud been examined with such wit and energy. Add what may be the most insanely dysfunctional clan to ever operate a family business, and you have a thoroughly entertaining tale!”—Diana B. Henriques, New York Times bestselling author of The Wizard of Lies and A First-Class Catastrophe
- “Gary Weiss tackles the riveting saga of retailing huckster and shameless fraudster ‘Crazy Eddie’ with verve and panache. The result is a compelling yarn of a guy who embraced every crooked scheme he encountered, and snookered loyal employees, family, consumers and investors indiscriminately and with zero remorse. It's far more entertaining than any cautionary tale deserves to be!”—Suzanne McGee, author of Chasing Goldman Sachs
- “For those of us who lived in New York in the 1980s and 1990s, Crazy Eddie was part of the city’s unique DNA. I lived three blocks from the discount chain’s East 57th Street flagship store and it had a magnetic lure for all things electronic. I closely followed the news reports of the chain’s rise and fall. It was not until I read Gary Weiss’s extensively reported and wonderfully written Retail Gangster that I realized how little I knew. Relying on fresh interviews and new information he discovered in massive court filings, Weiss has delivered a page-turning tale that reveals the dysfunctional family saga behind one of the era’s most fabled criminal scams. The rags to riches story of the Antar family also provides a vivid and gripping account of the players in New York’s wild merger and acquisition frenzy and booming stock market. Weiss delivers a real-life version of Succession meets Bernie Madoff.”—Gerald Posner, award-winning journalist and author of Pharma
- "If you aren’t familiar with the saga of Crazy Eddie, fix that immediately. Read this book!"—Helaine Olen, Washington Post Opinions
- On Sale
- Aug 23, 2022
- Page Count
- 304 pages
- Hachette Books