Favorite Media Interviews and Mentions
Sam Antar, the former CFO of Crazy Eddie and a convicted felon, described to The Times of Israel how his family’s company had laundered money through Bank Leumi for over a decade in the 1970s and 1980s. Although these events occurred several decades ago, they provide context for the recent US charges against Bank Leumi.
Crazy Eddie was a chain of discount electronics stores in the northeastern United States famous for its manic television and radio commercials: “Our prices are insaaane!”
While offering low prices to its customers, the company was cooking the books, failing to report cash transactions and pocketing sales tax, eventually going on to commit $145 million in securities fraud.
“The question was, what do I do with all this money?” recalled Antar. “Do I stuff it in a mattress? How much money can I stuff in a mattress? What can I do with it? That’s where Bank Leumi came in.”
Antar would go to the Bank Leumi USA offices in New York, where he would meet with an employee of Bank Leumi Israel. Antar would hand the employee a briefcase full of cash and, a day later, when Antar boarded an El Al flight for Tel Aviv, the briefcase would be waiting for him on the plane.
“In other words, they would bypass United States Security,” explained Antar, although he is not quite sure how they did it.
Antar said that he and his family transferred about $10 million in cash in the early years of the company to a bank account in Israel. While countries like Switzerland or the Cayman Islands offered the same guarantees of bank secrecy, as traditional Syrian Jews, the Antars preferred Israel.
“We trusted Israel because they were our own kind. Israel was the most underrated tax haven there was. It didn’t draw a lot of attention.”
When Antar wanted to withdraw money, the bank used a different ruse.
“Say I had $10 million in Israel, and I needed to use that money over here in New York. They couldn’t wire me the funds because the account is secret. This money is hidden from the US government to evade income taxes.”
Antar said that Bank Leumi in New York would give him a loan but charge a very low interest rate. The paperwork for the loan would in no way reflect the fact that Antar had money deposited in Israel.
If Antar borrowed money from Bank Leumi New York at an 11 percent interest rate while getting 10% interest on his account in Israel, he actually came out ahead. “The interest I was paying was tax deductible,” he explained, “so I actually made money by borrowing money.”
Antar was eventually busted and forced to describe to US investigators precisely how he had laundered money through Bank Leumi.
His cousin Eddie Antar, the company’s CEO, fled to Israel in 1990. Prosecutors suspect that a total of $50 million of embezzled funds were laundered through Israeli and Panamanian banks before he left the US.
Eddie Antar, who was extradited to the United States in 1993 and eventually served two years in prison, died on Saturday.
Meanwhile Sam Antar, who described himself to The Times of Israel as having “retired from crime,” said he was surprised Bank Leumi escaped the wrath of the US government for so long.
“They didn’t prosecute at the time. Twenty-five years later they’re finally catching up with this bank. Why did it take them so long? It’s one of those things you just don’t have the answers for.”
‘It started in the 1960s and 1970s when the State of Israel wanted to attract foreign currency… There was never a policy to do something wrong, although perhaps some people turned a blind eye. We didn’t ask customers if they had paid taxes. We didn’t feel it was our job to so, we weren’t the police’
Bank Leumi declined to comment on the nature of its activities with regards to the Antar family and other tax-evading Americans. But a source who spoke to The Times of Israel on condition of anonymity, and who worked for one of the Israeli banks operating in the United States at the time, said that Israeli banks would often accept large deposits from American customers with few questions asked.
Sam Antar, who became a Manhattan-based securities fraud expert after being convicted in the 1990s in connection with a stock market scheme, said the strategy was novel.
“I have never seen anything like that,” Antar said. “I’ve never seen a super PAC used to promote a penny stock.”
Asked by ProPublica to review the filings, Antar, the securities fraud expert, said they were “disturbing to say the least.” He added, “You don’t pay someone to pay you back. It’s what we call a round-trip transaction.
After being released from his “vacation,” Sam began to get invitations to lecture at universities and private businesses about white-collar fraud. “My rap sheet became more important than my resume.”
He has since become a forensic accountant, advising businesses, law firms, and the FBI on the tricks used to perpetuate fraud on investors, all while stressing that he’s not offering himself up as a “redemption” story. “It helps my credibility by not being apologetic for my crimes. Call me the criminal I was and probably still am. I might tell you I won’t commit another crime, but is it true? Or does it just help you sleep better at night?”