JTA — “Crazy Eddie” Antar, whose chain of eponymous electronics retail stores was a business and cultural phenomenon before he landed in jail on fraud charges, died Saturday at age 68.
A cause of death was not disclosed.
The grandson of Syrian Jewish immigrants, Antar advertised his chain with a series of antic late-night television ads that earned fame beyond the New York metropolitan area. An actor played “Crazy Eddie,” whose tag line was, “Our prices are insane!!”
In the early 1990s, however, a business once valued at hundreds of millions of dollars had filed for bankruptcy and the Securities and Exchange Commission and the U.S. Attorney’s Office opened probes. Antar fled to Israel in 1990 but was arrested there and returned to the United States in 1993 to face trial.
A conviction on stock fraud was overturned, but both Antar and his brother Mitchell subsequently pleaded guilty instead of facing retrial and Antar went to jail. The scandal rocked the close-knit Syrian Jewish community in Brooklyn and Ocean County, New Jersey.
Michael Chertoff, the U.S. Attorney for New Jersey and future Homeland Security chief (and himself the son of a rabbi) called the Antars’ efforts to create false inventory reports and inflate the company’s stock prices “staggering.”
Antar, who returned to Brooklyn after serving his term, spoke to NJ.com in 2012. “What can I tell you?” he said. “I changed the business. I changed the whole business.”