American Hustle (2013): Abscam Scandal

David O. Russell’s Oscar-nominated comedy, American Hustle, is inspired by the Abscam scandal.

The real Abscam scandal began as a sting operation by the FBI.  Concerned about white-collar crime – and eventually about political corruption, the FBI’s John Good and Anthony Amoroso worked with a con artist, Mel Weinberg, to create a sting operation.  Weinberg and the FBI created a phony company, headed by a fake Arab sheik, for the purposes of offering bribes to officials in exchange for political favors.

“It didn’t take long for us to become convinced of Mel’s capability,” says Good.  “He dedicated himself to it.  I wouldn’t even call him an informant; he acted beyond the scope of an informant just furnishing information.  He was participating in the undercover operation.  He was a con man, but he had a good heart, and there was a streak of integrity in him – and he committed to a legitimate operation and was able to accomplish something on the right side of the law.”

Weinberg became the star witness in the FBI’s cases against six members of the US House of Representatives and one US Senator, who were convicted of various charges in the scandal. In addition, other local government officials were convicted, including the mayor of Camden, New Jersey.

“I thought the mayor was a really nice guy,” says Amoroso.  “I mean his first interest was helping himself – but he was also looking to help Camden, New Jersey. There was this one time we were in Atlantic City and some drunk walking around the boardwalk happened to approach him.  This guy wasn’t even a constituent of the mayor’s, but he spent ten minutes talking to the guy.  That’s just the kind of guy the mayor was. In this job, there are guys that you can’t wait to lock up and other guys you’re sorry to see them go down.  The mayor was that kind of guy – sorry to see him go down, but that’s my job.”