A reformed white-collar criminal who defrauded investors out of millions in the 1980s and '90s told students at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi on Tuesday that safeguards against corporate wrongdoing are essential to protecting not only the economy, but people's life savings.
For 18 years, Sam Antar, along with his uncle and cousin, masterminded one of the largest securities frauds of the 20th century, bilking investors out of more than $120 million.
As the chief financial officer of Crazy Eddie Inc., a retail electronics chain, Antar, then 28, later became the government's key witness in both the civil and criminal prosecutions against his family and fellow co-conspirators.
"There's no rationalization for my crime," Antar said. "We did it simply because we could. I came clean with the government only because I wanted to avoid 20 years in prison."
The 52-year-old now travels around the country telling his story in hopes that the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 continues to be implemented to stop people who think like he once did. He travels on his own money and doesn't charge for his lectures.
Passed in response to corporate and accounting scandals, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act established new corporate responsibilities for all U.S. public companies. Antar said there is a movement to change the act because, critics say, it is creating more economic damage than good - but he disagrees.
"Criminals like myself, or like I used to be, destroy the fundamental underpinnings of our capitalistic system," he said. "The Sarbanes-Oxley Act should be strengthened because it ensures integrity."
Antar said he would like to see the Securities and Exchange Commission increase educational standards within the accounting profession, starting from college curriculums forward to mandate levels of competency for accountants who audit public companies. He thinks more courses should be established to prevent future accountants from committing crimes like his.
Antar said that during the 18 years he was committing a crime he never once thought about the victims. "Never did it cross my mind that people could be losing their jobs or money because of us," he said. "This securities fraud cost investors hundreds of millions of dollars, cost many people their life savings and careers. Their sufferings can never be measured."
Most of the skimmed Crazy Eddie funds were deposited in secret Antar family bank accounts in Israel. The company was prosecuted for underreporting income before going public, overstating income after going public, money laundering, fictitious revenues, fraudulent asset valuations, concealed liabilities and expenses among others.
Antar said after cooperating with the government he lost all contact with his cousin and uncle. He still does not speak with them.
"The biggest lesson I've learned through it all is that crime does not pay," he said.
Kristen Cope, a junior communications major, said she was shocked at the scope of Antar's illicit activities.
"It's scary what this company was doing and that they weren't caught sooner," she said. "It makes you think that there are probably other companies doing what they did now."
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