Sam Antar, who cooked the books in the outrageous Crazy Eddie con of the 1980s, doesn’t mind being called a creep. In fact, he sort of likes it. When he spoke recently to a group of students at Stanford University, he got the usual questions. Someone wanted to know if he was sorry for ruining so many lives. He insisted that’s not the point. Another person asked if he ever talks to Eddie Antar, his cousin, co-conspirator, and childhood hero. (They sat down for a joint interview a few years ago…but that didn’t go so well.) The last student at Stanford didn’t have a question. She just wanted to share something. She thinks he’s creepy.
Sam’s face lit up when he told me that story. That’s just the point! That’s exactly right! Sam is a person who will remind you of his basic lousiness and inhumanity as many times as you’ll let him. To make a point, he’ll stretch about as far as a person possibly can into what he freely calls “hyperbole and bullshit.” He challenged me to explain why I’d give him a ride to the airport from Stanford: Would you do the same for a serial killer? Is there any difference? Aren’t white collar criminals just as brutal in the execution of their crimes? I said I thought every interaction is a sort of negotiation. White collar criminals (and serial killers) might be more ruthless and cold-blooded than the rest of us…but don’t we all have an eye out for an opportunity?
I’m glad we took ours and sat down with Sam Antar before he flew back to his native New York City. It was a long and interesting interview with the biggest liar — and the biggest straight talker — I’ve ever shared an afternoon with.
Here are a few short clips from that interview. We’ll post more in the coming weeks. But, for now, here’s Sam Antar on criminality and humanity:
Sam Antar Interview, Part 1: The Rules of Criminality
Sam Antar Interview, Part 2: Humanity, or the lack thereof
Thanks for voting on the con artist you’d like to see in the Hall of Infamy. If you missed this round, we’ll have another group for you to vote on next week.
And the crook with the most votes is…Lou Pearlman. At the same time that he launched two wildly successful boy bands, ‘NSync and the Backstreet Boys, Pearlman ran a huge 20-year Ponzi scheme. Among the investors he persuaded to fork over millions for two non-existent companies were close friends and the elderly; such details don’t go unnoticed. As the judge who sentenced Pearlman noted: “…The sympathy factor doesn’t run high with the court.”
So Pearlman is serving a 25-year prison sentence. According to several articles published in March 2009, he’s keeping busy behind bars and looking to promote a new band called Biteboy. Last year, he was working on a deal for a reality television show about Biteboy’s attempts to hit the big-time. “It’s part Charlie’s Angels, part Making the Band,” the band’s manager told Portfolio magazine. If this show pans out, Pearlman might even play a minor role in the show — or at least his voice on speakerphone would play a role. The tentative name for the show: “Jailhouse Rock.”
If it sounds like I’m making this up (and I know it does), check out this article in Portfolio magazine. Apparently, there are ways for convicted felons to work outside the confines of prison. And, apparently, some people still want to work with Lou Pearlman.
Crazy, I know. But, then again, as the Portfolio article points out, maybe Pearlman is just the guy to pull this off:
“Before he filed for bankruptcy in early 2007, Pearlman had parlayed a cash-strapped helicopter service into a blimp company, crashed his first blimp minutes after its launch, then used the insurance money to take a second blimp company public. At the same time, he lured investors by selling shares of 727s and 747s in his charter airline fleet—jets he never owned.”
We’ll learn more about this character soon – look for him when we roll out our 2010 inductees this summer.
We’re gearing up for our 2010 inductions — and we need help deciding which crooks deserve a spot! We’ve selected some of the best nominations submitted by visitors to the Hall of Infamy; every two weeks, we’ll post a bit about these schemers and ask for your VOTE. We’ll post the results the following week — and then give you another chance to vote on who you think we should add to this infamous crew.
Courtney Chauncey Julian may have had a big, flowery name but he used down-home folksy tactics to run his con in the 1920s. He reeled in thousands of people during the speculative oil frenzy that gripped the city of Los Angeles with clever newspaper ads that promised easy money. When the bubble burst in 1927, shareholders lost up to $150 million.
Jordan Belfort, the “Wolf of the Wall Street” ran a pump-and-dump operation in the 1990s; investors who bought his artificially inflated stocks lost $100 million. A movie about his life (and based on his autobiography) is due out in 2010 – it’s directed by Martin Scorsese and stars Leonardo DiCaprio.
The Jacobowitz family of New York ran a huge decade-long fraud with Allou Healthcare, from imaginary sales and inventory to phony insurance claims. The con collapsed when the family bribed an undercover Fire Marshal to describe the fire in an Allou warehouse an “accident” (rather than “arson”). Losses totaled about $160 million and three Jacobowitz brothers are serving prison time.
Philip M. Musica was known to the world at various times as Frank D. Coster and F. Donald Coster; under all three names, he ran afoul of the law until his suicide in 1938 – for bribing customs officials while importing cheese, for borrowing on invoices for a company that dealt in human hair and, finally, for masterminding a major financial fraud through McKesson & Robbins, a pharmaceutical company.
Lou Pearlman launched two of the biggest “boy bands” of the 1990s — and he swindled banks and individuals of more than $300 million. Over 20 years, Pearlman took funds from hapless investors for companies that only existed on paper. In 2008, he plead guilty to four counts of conspiracy, money laundering and making false claims of bankruptcy.
Last Sunday, I sent an email to one of our inductees. Fifteen minutes later, the phone rang. I spent the next hour talking with the former chief financial officer of the Crazy Eddie fraud about immorality and “walls of false integrity.”
Sam Antar says he hasn’t changed. “I’m the same person that I was in 1985,” he told me. “The only thing that’s changed is that I’ve made a choice not to commit crime.” Back then, Sam helped build the crooked foundation of the Antar family’s business. Today, he runs a website devoted to white collar fraud and travels around the country giving lectures with “chilling straight talk about the mind, motivations, manipulations, and techniques of a fraudster.”
As for the chilling straight talk of our conversation, Sam said that he, his cousin, Eddie, and the rest of the Antar clan never gave a second thought to the victims of their crime. Their conversations were “cold-blooded,” focused solely on how to increase their profits and hold the fraud together.
It’s hard for me to understand such cruel self-interest, but I may not be alone in this. According to Sam, it’s a mistake to “humanize a crook” by trying to understand his actions. “We’re inhuman,” he tells me. “We have no humanity as it relates to morality.” Every single move that a con artist makes is designed to conceal his true intentions behind a “wall of false integrity” and bolster his victim’s comfort level.
So what about those of us who struggle to fathom how a person could set aside morals for a buck? What does Sam Antar make of us? “Enablers.”
And white collar criminals are very good at picking up enablers. They love moral people.
Stay tuned – there’s more to come from Sam Antar in the coming weeks. It turns out he’s not only an inductee to the Con Artist Hall of Infamy….he’s a fan!