9Favorite Media Interviews and Mentions
But one bean counter smelled trouble. Sam E. Antar, the accountant who cooked the books at appliance chain Crazy Eddie in the 1980s, claimed he had discovered numerous accounting “irregularities” in GMCR’s financial filings. He posted them on his blog, White Collar Fraud, and outlined them in a letter to the SEC that accused GMCR of selectively disclosing financial information, in violation of SEC regulations. In the past, Antar’s muckraking forced companies such as Overstock.com to admit accounting errors and revise financial reports. But his warnings over the spring and summer didn’t have a lasting negative effect on the coffee company; by September 19, GMCR’s stock had soared to $111.62 a share.
Update: Green Mountain Coffee’s stock took a hit in October — but not because of Antar’s warnings. David Einhorn, the hedge-fund manager famous for predicting the downfall of Lehman Brothers, precipitated the plunge. In a presentation at an investor conference, Einhorn criticized GMCR for overspending, overcharging and “poor transparency.” GMCR shares promptly slid from $90 to a low of $56 before rebounding.
Is Antar compelled to say, “I told you so”? Not exactly. “David Einhorn is a brilliant man. He’s an 800-pound gorilla whose track record of ferreting out frauds like Lehman Brothers speaks for itself,” Antar says. “If Einhorn were a white-collar criminal like me, he’d be even faster and smarter. Unlike Einhorn, I have firsthand experience about how the game is played on both sides of the law.”
“Once you’re caught, it is all about what you know,” Sam told me in an interview. ”The FBI doesn’t care how sorry you are or what kind of wonderful family you have, they need information and information keeps you out of jail. It becomes a business transaction.” He has a point. The longer the investigation goes on, the more time and effort that are expended by the government, the less they need informants to tell what happened. At MF Global, there has to be someone who wants to continue to spend the holidays with their family each year. So if you work(ed) there and you know something then you better speak up….early.
“The government needs informants,” Antar said, “they are more credible at trial than any FBI agent because they were there, they can tell you exactly what happened, the motivations used to justify it and who did it. Juries eat it up.” So far, the top brass at MF Global is not really saying much. In fact, they are saying so little that it makes one wonder how these gentlemen even held the positions that they did.
One of the nation’s top accounting sleuths, Sam Antar, has bagged yet another suspect: Green Mountain Coffee Roasters. Mr. Antar first questioned Green Mountain’s accounting on his blog, White Collar Fraud, back in September 2010 and issued numerous follow-ups.
“The numbers just don’t add up,” Antar says. “Could it be stupidity? Yeah, sure, but there are so many violations here, I just have to believe that something is wrong.”
Antar says he has no vested interest in the demise of Green Mountain. He says he has no position in the stock and, according to his Web site, “my investigations of these companies are a freebie for securities regulators to get me into heaven, though I doubt I will ever get there. My past sins are unforgivable.”
Antar’s advice to business professionals was simple: be paranoid.“You have to have a level of cynicism and skepticism,” he said. “You have to learn about professional paranoia. You have to learn not to trust so much, but to just verify.”
Yet Antar makes a convincing case that the numbers still don’t add up. The 10-Q report for the period ending March 26, 2011 indicates that at the beginning of the preceding 26-week period, the combined amount for both the sales return reserve and the bad debt reserve was $14.1 million.
During that 26-week period, the 10-Q’s Statement of Cash Flows indicates, the two reserves increased. The bad debts reserve increased by $400,000, and the return reserve by $5.262 million. This implies a combined increase of $5.7 million, implying again a combined reserve at the end of the period of $19.7 million.
Oddly, then, the company’s balance sheet for the same March 26, 2011 report shows the combined reserve at that time as $20.6 million.
There is, then, a discrepancy of $847,000 between the cash flow and the balance sheet figures for the same reserves.
Today a reformed Antar, 54, teaches law-enforcement agencies, accountants and businesses how to identify fraud and “catch the crooks.” He’s a whistleblower for the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and a corporate watchdog whose hard-charging blog, White Collar Fraud, has forced companies such as Overstock.com to admit they made accounting errors and revise their financial reports.
Now Antar is on the warpath against Vermont’s own Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, the Waterbury-based company whose name is synonymous with social and corporate responsibility. As the SEC continues its 10-month-old inquiry into the publicly traded company — and a shareholder lawsuit grinds through federal court — Antar claims he’s discovered numerous accounting “irregularities” in GMCR’s financial filings. Antar has detailed them in letters to the SEC, most recently in a June 6 correspondence that claims the company’s numbers “don’t add up.” The letter accuses Green Mountain Coffee Roasters of selectively disclosing financial information, in violation of SEC regulations.
“Do I smell a rat? Of course I smell a rat,” Antar says in a thick New York accent. “I’ll stick out my neck and say this: At the very least, they violated the law. Whether it was intentional or not, I’ll leave to the SEC and the class-action lawyers to decide.”
First things first: Investors need to adopt a stance of extreme skepticism, what Sam E. Antar likes to call “professional paranoia.” He should know. As the CFO of the infamous electronics retail chain Crazy Eddie’s in the 1980s, he helped “mastermind” an A-level fraud that eventually cost investors hundreds of millions of dollars.
“I pretty much did everything that everybody else is doing now,” Antar likes to say. “Maybe on a smaller scale, but I did it all. That’s why the Crazy Eddie case is taught at colleges and universities, even today, 20 years later. It became like the all-in-one textbook case.”
To avoid being duped, Antar says, amateur investors need to recalibrate how they understand financial reports. For Antar, they’re little more than “marketing brochures. They exist to sell a product, and that product is stock. OK? Forget about internal auditors, external auditors, compliance people, whatever. Financial reports are there to present the company in the best light possible.”
Crazy Eddie, for example, lasted three years as a public company following its IPO in 1984. “Before we imploded, the stock kept on rising no matter what the skeptics said,” Antar recalls. “So here’s the problem: Were the longs right? Or were the longs wrong — and they traded right? In many cases, even though they’re being probed by the SEC, even though there are a lot of legitimate questions being raised about these companies, their stock prices still go up. With Wall Street, it’s all about the trade. So if you’re gonna be a short seller, not only do you have to be right, you have to be right on time.”
Still, profiling has its champions — even among some who’ve been convicted of white collar offenses.Sam Antar, the former chief financial officer of discount electronics retailer Crazy Eddie, who pleaded guilty to securities fraud for his role in a long-running accounting scam, says he sees some value in profiling. He told Reuters that greed often is a secondary motivation for many white collar offenders. He believes Madoff, for example, was driven mostly by “a sense of stature” and an unwillingness to show failure as an investor.
In his case, Antar said the main reason he helped cook the books at the once ubiquitous New York retail chain Crazy Eddie was loyalty to his family. His cousin Eddie Antar, the company’s namesake, ran the business. But in 1993, Sam Antar testified against his cousin and helped convict him in exchange for a lighter sentence.
Today, Sam Antar works with law enforcement and goes around the country giving lectures on how to fight white collar crime. He also runs a popular blog at his website, whitecollarfraud.com, where he comments on usual trading activity in the markets.
In a recent interview, Antar told Reuters that FBI profilers are right to be wary of putting too much stock into interviews with white collar felons because they’ll often say what a questioner wants to hear. In his view, once people become a scamster it’s hard for them to ever really change.
“People like to ask me if I am redeemed,” said Antar. “I like to say that I am possibly retired. The only reason I stopped was because I got caught.”
Sam E. Antar, convicted felon, former CPA, and former CFO of Crazy Eddie, underscores the significance of disclosure to financial reporting. “Read the footnotes first,” he advises investors on his White Collar Fraud website (whitecollarfraud.blogspot.com/p/advice.html). Crosschecking disclosures with those in prior periods can help investors spot inconsistencies and notice red flags of potential fraud. Antar warns that seemingly minor changes can have a huge impact on the bottom line. He speaks from experience. In the Crazy Eddie fraud, the change of a single word, from “Purchase discounts and trade allowances are recognized when received” to “recognized when earned,” allowed him to inflate the company’s bottom line by approximately $20 million in 1987.
As soon as the ink was dry on the bad news about Minkow, I and several dozen other recipients were instantly bombarded with emails from Patrick Byrne, CEO of Overstock.com (OSTK). Byrne, best known for blaming his company’s endless problems on the “Sith Lord,” was exultant about Minkow’s woes. Minkow had never written about Byrne, but he was close to another convicted felon named Sam Antar, who masterminded the Crazy Eddie fraud and now exposes the kind of creeps that he used to be. The problem, for Byrne, is that Overstock is no Lennar, and Antar’s posts on Overstock’s accounting irregularities have been proven correct by Overstock’s multiple restatements. Byrne, undeterred, had an Overstock employee post a blog item comparing his boss to that poor lady in Libya who came to the foreign media with rape allegations. Yep, you read that correctly.
Companies can get away with stuff like that — phony blogs, mendacious lawsuits or just acting like creeps — because we live in a society where CEOs can get away with murder and which relies on private research firms, short sellers and ex-cons to blow the whistle on them. Minkow, who once gave every sign of turning over a new leaf, has given a new lease on life to corporate charlatans everywhere. I hope he rots in jail.
As a convicted felon, Sam E. Antar, the former CFO for the now-defunct consumer-electronics chain Crazy Eddie, no doubt has regrets. Among them: he is no longer in the game at a time when corporate fraud is experiencing a resurgence. “If I were out of retirement today, I’d be bigger than Bernie Madoff,” he boasts.
Antar says that despite the antifraud provisions of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 and the recently enacted Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, it remains as easy today for bad guys, both internal and external, to loot corporate coffers as it was during the Enron and WorldCom days. “Nothing’s changed,” he says. “Wall Street analysts are just as gullible, internal controls remain weak, and the SEC is underfunded and, at best, ineffective. Madoff only got caught because the economy tanked.”
Antar won’t get much of an argument from organizations that monitor corporate fraud. In fact, the consensus today is that financial shenanigans are markedly on the increase. “There’s a lot more employee fraud and embezzlement today then there was 10 years ago, and this past year there was much more than a year ago,” says Steve Pedneault of Forensic Accounting Services. “People blame the economy, but much of the fraud and embezzlement that’s coming to the surface now was in the works for 4 or 5 years before the recession hit.”