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The Insane, Real-Life Story of Crazy Eddie

by Gary Weiss

Pub Date: Aug. 23rd, 2022
ISBN: 978-0-306-92455-2
Publisher: Hachette

A chronicle of consumer electronics and corruption in the second half of the 20th century.

Investigative journalist Weiss reveals the mechanics of the corrupt retail empire of “Crazy Eddie” Antar (1947-2016). Eddie grew up in New York City’s Syrian Jewish community and dropped out of school at 15. He worked short stints in tourist traps before moving into electronics sales, where he made profits despite rock-bottom prices through acquiring his wares wholesale and skimming the sales tax from purchases, socking the unreported cash away in various hiding places, a process “known among Syrians” as nehkdi. Eddie christened the first Crazy Eddie store in 1973, and by the mid-1970s, he was establishing himself as the economic head of the family, which displeased his father, Sam M. Antar. As the business grew, bolstered by shrill and memorable marketing (“HIS PRICES ARE INSANE!”), so did the scale of the family corruption. In 1979, Sam “Sammy” E. Antar, Eddie’s cousin and the family lawyer, got his “Golden Idea”: They should take the company public and gradually dial back the amount of nehkdi to inflate the appearance of their profits. The scheme was working, drawing praise for the company, but behind the scenes, it was becoming increasingly difficult to maintain the facade of a highly successful, aboveboard operation—and, at its height, no one benefitted from the fraud more than Eddie. The story involves a massive cast of characters, from generations of the Antar family to Eddie’s scorned first wife, Deborah Rosen, and a slew of federal agents. Weiss paints an intricate portrait of greed, aspiration, and complicated family ties bolstered by recollections from Sammy, whose eventual cooperation helped secure convictions for Eddie and other Antar associates. The scheme can feel almost nostalgic following more recent financial scandals and the collapse of physical retail, but Weiss also emphasizes its very real consequences: Eddie “wasn’t hated, but he hurt people.”

A compellingly readable story about a con artist who “epitomized the duality of the American Dream.”