Sam A. Antar is a gambling addict. This is not especially unusual in America, nor is it particularly uncommon for the most extreme of these gamblers to resort to stealing from loved ones, casual acquaintances, or business associates to feed their addictions.
Nearly 10 years ago, Antar was sentenced to 21 months in federal prison for taking $225,000 from an investor and using it to gamble. A stint in the slammer did not curb his appetite for risk, however. In 2019, Antar was charged with theft by deception in New Jersey for another fraudulent investment scheme, one in which he stole nearly $800,000 to fuel his gambling habit and pay for various personal expenses. His behavior in this instance prompted a companion civil complaint filed by the Securities and Exchange Commission.
While the civil complaint has yet to be resolved, Antar eventually pled guilty to one of the 2019 criminal charges. As he awaited sentencing, he continued to gamble, doing much of his wagering through BetMGM’s online casino. According to court records, Antar claims to have wagered at least $29 million between May 2019 and January 2020, feverishly placing at least 100,000 online bets at up to $5,000 per bet, as well as visiting Atlantic City’s Borgata casino more than 30 times to gamble in person during that months-long span.
This experience led to Antar filing a civil suit of his own against BetMGM and Borgata, among other defendants, accusing them of fraud, negligence, breach of contract, violations of the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act, and numerous violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act. Specific to BetMGM, Antar — described in his own lawsuit as “a compulsive and vulnerable gambler” — claims the online casino would disconnect him “every 15 to 30 minutes” when he would get a favorable hand in blackjack or other games, thus nullifying any potential winnings.
Antar claims he made several attempts to resolve these technological shortcomings — which he says have impacted numerous players other than him — with BetMGM representatives. But rather than fix things, BetMGM allegedly plied Antar with free bonus money so he’d keep gambling without voicing his complaints to a regulatory body.
Antar filed his suit in late September, and BetMGM responded with the obligatory motion to dismiss on Dec. 6. According to Antar’s attorney, Margo Zemel, she and Antar have until late February to reply. But the case will now play out with Antar behind bars. On Dec. 9, he was sentenced to three years in a New Jersey state prison and immediately remanded into custody for the aforementioned 2019 scheme.
Representing an incarcerated client will present a unique set of challenges for Zemel as the case against BetMGM proceeds. But an Antar in prison for rooking investors? That’s old hat when it comes to one of the Greater New York area’s most notorious white-collar crime families of the past half-century.
Incarceration ‘exponentially more challenging’
Allen Antar is Sam’s father. Sounding a bit like Rocky Balboa, he said that his son has been “doing very good — actually extremely very very good” since he was locked up last month.
“He has a lot of remorse for things that happened in his life and everything like that,” Allen added.
This squares with something Sam expressed to US Bets on the day before his sentencing.
“Unfortunately, it took me over 30 years to realize what a severe gambling problem I had,” he said. “I won’t stop feeling the pain I feel until I pay back everyone I owe money to. I’ve been living in a mental prison. I’m glad this has come to a head.”
As for Sam being in an actual prison as his suit against BetMGM moves forward, Zemel, who’s from Newark, said, “It makes it more cumbersome because the jail system is what it is. He doesn’t have any of his paperwork. You go in there with nothing, practically, and the system itself has to be navigated. They (prison personnel) have been very nice, they really have. They allow me to set up telephone conferences with him, but that’s a little more challenging than seeing him in person. But we will prevail.
“In life, there’s always something in your path that you have to overcome. It happens to us all — the clock didn’t go off this morning or you find yourself in jail. You get up and you plow forward. I come from people who were agrarian, who were bakers, who had to make dough.”
Zemel, of course, is being paid to remain vigilant and optimistic as plaintiff’s counsel. But two seasoned trial attorneys with no connection to the case don’t envy her position.
Antar’s incarceration makes Zemel’s job “exponentially more challenging,” said Brian Klein, a partner at Waymaker LLC in Los Angeles.
“A party’s recent criminal conviction can, for example, often be used when cross-examining that party, and no doubt the other side will raise it at every available opportunity as the case proceeds,” Klein added. “On a practical level, it’s also just harder for his attorney to work with him when he’s behind bars. It doesn’t mean he can’t overcome all the serious difficulties this can pose, but it does mean it’s going to be much more difficult for him to pursue his civil case successfully than it was before.”
Les Hartman, a partner at the New Jersey law firm Kalavruzos, Mumola, Hartman, Lento & Duff, concurred, saying, “If you get to the trial aspect of the case, you’d want the ability to use any convictions so the jury knows that the witness in this case has a criminal conviction and may not be the kind of person who would take the oath to testify honestly seriously. In a case where somebody is convicted of crime and it’s not too remote, you can use that prior conviction to basically impeach his credibility.”
While BetMGM declined to comment on the case at this point, its Dec. 6 filing makes it rather clear that it intends to use Antar’s criminal past against him.
“Plaintiff Sam A. Antar is a convicted felon and repeat fraudster who has pled guilty to defrauding numerous individuals out of hundreds of thousands of dollars in false stock investment schemes,” BetMGM’s motion to dismiss reads. “Now, Antar is orchestrating his latest fraud scheme — this time with BetMGM as his attempted mark. Antar intends to take money from BetMGM based upon his false representations in this lawsuit, to repay himself for the court-ordered restitution he must pay to the victims of his fraud crimes, whose money he has taken to repay other victims in a rolling Ponzi scheme.”
Pick a fraud, any fraud
At 58, attorney Hartman is old enough to remember when intentionally obnoxious advertisements touting the insanity of the deals offered by Crazy Eddie discount electronics stores were virtually inescapable in the Tri-State area.
“It was a mercantile phenomenon of a kind that you really don’t see anymore, in the sense that it was just all over the airwaves,” said author Gary Weiss, who’s written several books about organized crime. “There were only a dozen channels and Crazy Eddie was on all of them. It was fun advertising.”
Weiss’ latest tome, Retail Gangster: The Insane, Real-Life Story of Crazy Eddie, recounts the heyday of the Crazy Eddie electronics chain in the 1970s and ‘80s — and the rampant, behind-the-scenes financial fudging that both built it into a publicly traded juggernaut and led to its startling demise. Pick a type of fraud — securities fraud, insurance fraud, tax fraud, inventory fraud, earnings fraud, identity fraud, financial fraud, what have you — and Eddie Antar and his assorted henchmen, many of them blood relatives in New York City’s close-knit community of Syrian Jews, were neck deep in it.
All told, the Antars bilked investors out of more than $145 million in the Crazy Eddie scheme, watching the company’s stock price soar from an initial public offering of $8 per share to $79 before everything unraveled in the late ‘80s. After fleeing to Israel as a fugitive from the law, Eddie was captured and wound up pleading guilty to a charge of racketeering conspiracy and serving nearly seven years in prison (he died in 2016 at the age of 68), while his brother Mitchell did time as well.
A third Antar brother, Allen, was acquitted of all criminal charges. But he was found financially liable for several related misdeeds in 1999 after the SEC brought a civil action against Allen; his brother-in-law, Ben Kuszer; and Allen’s father, Sam M. Antar.
“The SEC brought pretty much identical and more extensive charges against him and the non-convicted defendants,” said Weiss. “They were all found liable on every count. They just threw the book at them. They just took every cent they had, basically.”
“If I was acquitted by a jury of my peers, how was I even in a civil case?” Allen argued. “To me, it was a miscarriage of justice. If you’re asking me whether I believe in due process, I absolutely don’t.”
On Dec. 17, 2019, yet another Antar named Sam, Sam E. Antar, tweeted, “Crazy Eddie’s nephew Sam A. Antar looks like he’s headed back to prison. I testified against his father Allen who was known as the ‘Fredo’ of the Antar family. Both father and son are degenerate gamblers. Crazy Eddie’s brother, Allen Antar, was the OJ Simpson of securities fraud. Like OJ, he was acquitted in the criminal case, but was later convicted in a civil case brought by the S.E.C.”
Nearly a year later, Allen replied, “The real Fredo of the family is you and scum of the earth would be to (sic) good for I see you’ve had a great life Scumbag.”
Crazy Eddie’s brother, Allen Antar was the OJ Simpson of securities fraud. Like OJ, he was acquitted in the criminal case, but was later convicted in a civil case brought by the S.E.C.
— Sam E. Antar (@SamAntar) December 17, 2019
To say these guys don’t see eye to eye on certain things is an understatement.
‘I cooperated to save my rear end’
Sam E. Antar was Eddie’s younger cousin and the electronics chain’s top financial officer. A certified public accountant, he was the Crazy Eddie employee who really made the books cook before they flamed out so spectacularly.
When the store and its executives finally got caught in the legal crosshairs, Sam E. was as guilty as anyone, save for Eddie. But Sam E. decided early on to cooperate with investigators and became the government’s star witness. As a result, he wound up being sentenced to house arrest when he could have been fitted for an orange jumpsuit.
“I did not cooperate with the Feds because of a moral awakening,” he tweeted this past Jan. 11. “I cooperated to save my rear end.”
Now 65 and “pretty much retired,” Sam E. experienced a moral awakening of sorts later in life, working alongside law enforcement as a forensic accountant in addition to delivering talks on securities fraud and other white-collar crimes to colleges, legal organizations, and corporations.
“He’s tried to turn his life around, which he has,” said Weiss. “He’s served as a lecturer and a consultant to companies who are trying to fight fraud. That’s something you see among white-collar fraudsters, is they go to the other side. That’s what you saw with Frank Abagnale, who provided me with a very kind blurb” for the Retail Gangster cover jacket.
“When I left Crazy Eddie and even after I pled guilty, I had something called an education,” Sam E. Antar told US Bets. “They can take away my CPA license, but they can’t take away the knowledge I got to get there — or the street knowledge I got while working at Crazy Eddie. I had this philosophy: Never hate your enemies. So when Crazy Eddie was finished, I had a pretty clear bill of health going forward. It allowed me to teach professional organizations — CPA societies, legal organizations like the New York Bar Association, businesses like Walmart or Chevron, government agencies like the FBI.
“I had something valuable that I could still sell, and rather than trying to deny the past or to tuck it under the rug — which I knew was impossible anyway — I decided to utilize my accounting skills. I worked for the former chief of the SEC in his whistleblower firm. I had something that was marketable as a forensic accountant. You could still say I still live a life of crime. It’s just which side I’m on.”
Sam E. doesn’t know Sam A. well, but recalls a bar mitzvah for the younger Sam where Kool & the Gang was the hired entertainment. At the time, said Sam E., Allen “was rolling in the dough.” But Sam E. recalled that Sam M. and Allen were avid gamblers, and referred to Sam A. as a “chip off the old block.”
For his part, Allen said that while he “owned a couple thoroughbreds back in the day,” he didn’t expose his son to unhealthy gambling. Rather, Allen said that Sam A. “became infatuated with the commodities market, the stock market.”
In a nutshell, he said Sam A. “became infatuated with quick money” — which is ultimately what led to his getting carried away with gambling.
While Weiss’ book has been well received, Allen’s not a fan. Unsurprisingly, he’s not fond of Sam E. either.
“The lowest thing you can be is a rat, and he’s a rat,” said Allen. “I haven’t spoken to Sam E. in about 30 years, but I will tell you one thing: Whatever comes around, goes around. We pray for people like that. We don’t wish them harm; we pray for them.”