Favorite Media Interviews and Mentions
In a sense, Holder has granted the industry its own version of juvenile court. No matter how pervasive the crime, no matter how many thousands of victims, the major players can be assured of walking away with little more than a fine, released to the custody of their parents.
“When it comes to Wall Street, Eric Holder couldn’t prosecute a ham sandwich that sold itself as kosher,” says Sam Antar. “The Obama administration’s record has been abysmal.”
He should know. As the chief financial officer of a retail electronics chain in the 1980s, Antar pleaded guilty to multiple charges of fraud and conspiracy. He now describes himself as a “retired criminal” with a safer career: teaching FBI and IRS agents how to catch people just like him.
“It’s kind of like Wall Street has a different set of rules than other industries,” Antar says.
“It’s almost like stealing a billion dollars with a pencil is not as bad. You have a lesser chance of going to jail than if you mug somebody on the streets of New York.”
But he believes the potential for fraud remains to this day, even in the aftermath of the Enron and Madoff scandals and reforms like Sarbanes-Oxley and the Dodd-Frank Act.
“In my day we had to deceive our auditors,” he said. “We had to distract them. Today I feel like a dinosaur because we don’t need to fool the auditors anymore. In many cases accounting firms are the enablers, if not the co-conspirators.”He pointed to examples like the financial restatements at Groupon and Overstock.com, which were both audited by Big Four firms. He has written about their accounting problems on his blog, White Collar Fraud.Antar also criticized Congress’s recently passed JOBS Act, which would lower many of the traditional auditing barriers and investor protection safeguards for so-called “emerging growth companies” seeking capital from investors.“I call it the License to Steal Act,” said Antar. “It would peel away the layers of compliance, peel away the internal controls and checks and balances. Why? To jumpstart the economy. The one interest group that gets full bipartisan support is white collar criminals. In the 25 years since Crazy Eddie’s, I don’t see any improvement. I see things getting worse, despite your fine efforts, because whatever you do—and you’re great organizations—you’ve got the politicians undercutting you.”
“White collar criminals do it because they can,” Sam Antar told the accountants and auditors in attendance. “It’s your job to make it harder for them.”
“The plain truth is that the accounting profession today, whether in the role of external auditor or internal auditor and accountant, does not have the sufficient education, training, skills, and experience necessary to match wits with criminals of my former caliber,” he told the audience. Antar runs a blog called WhiteCollarFraud.com, where he talks about his life as a former accountant and convicted felon. (Sam Antar cooperated with investigators and thus did not serve time in prison.)
In order to find fraud, investors have to spot patterns of inconsistencies in a company’s public disclosures, such as those found in mandated Securities and Exchange Commission filings, earnings, conference calls, media interviews, trade journals, and even Internet forums.
In fact, until his retirement from the City University of New York’s Baruch College in 1987, Briloff was the Emanuel Saxe distinguished professor of accounting there. His lectures in introductory accounting were part of the required curriculum for students aiming to become certified public accountants, but were eagerly attended because Briloff did more than just recite rote nostrums.
“He wanted us not just to be bean counters but to look under the hood, to analyze the numbers, to question the validity of financial information,” says Sam Antar, who attended Briloff’s lectures while he was a student at Baruch in the late 1970s. Briloff’s principles took quite a while to sink in for Antar, who, with his cousin Eddie Antar, masterminded the Crazy Eddie electronics-chain stock fraud of the 1980s, but now authors a blog (whitecollarfraud.com) that targets white-collar crime.
Mr. Antar pleaded guilty to felonies, but received no jail time, for assisting prosecutors in charges against his cousin, Eddie Antar, who famously advertised that his prices were just “In-sanne!” (frequently parodied on Saturday Night Live in the Dan Aykroyd-John Belushi era.)
“The reality is, to succeed on Wall Street you’ve got to be a psychopath in one form or another,” Mr. Antar says.
Mr. Antar now teaches law-enforcement organizations how to spot psychos. He thinks of himself as a psychopath in remission, but he admits he could snap back at any time, much like a relapsing alcoholic.
Non-GAAP measures have been the bane of Silicon Valley and Internet firms over the years, and have been the cause of confusion and angst on many occasions. They have been the bane of the Internet retailer Overstock.com(OSTK), whose use of non-GAAP measures has been severely criticized by former Crazy Eddie accounting mastermind Sam Antar, as he has recounted in detail on his blog. Although Overstock CEO Patrick Byrne once criticized EBITDA as “the stupidest thing I ever heard emanate from Wall Street,” he subsequently used that non-GAAP measure — and he has never been confronted with his criticism of EBITDA at the company’s quarterly conference calls.