American Hustle – 10 Facts about the ABSCAM FBI Scandal
2014 Academy Award Nominee for Best Picture American Hustle starts the film with the line “Some of this actually happened” and indeed some of it did. The events of the movie are based on the ABSCAM scandal, and here’s what you should know about it.
What was ABSCAM?
- ABSCAM was an FBI sting operation in the late 1970’s and early 80’s. What started out as a stolen property investigation morphed into a public corruption sting.
- ABSCAM led to the conviction of one US Senator, six members of House of Representatives, a New Jersey State Senator, one member of the Philadelphia city council, the mayor of Camden New Jersey and one member of the US Immigration service.
- A screenplay based on ABSCAM entitled “Moon over Miami” was written for Dan Aykroyd and Jim Belushi set to star, but Belushi’s death scuttled the production of the film.
- In 1978 the FBI launched a major operation to weed out corrupt US officials by utilizing a convicted con artist named Melvin Weinberg.
- In order to entrap public officials, the FBI formed a fake company called Abdul Enterprises Ltd. as a front for the investigation, and set up videotaped meetings between a fake Arab Sheik named Abdul Rahman (played by an FBI agent) and public officials.
- The political favors the FBI sought were Political Asylum in the US, involvement in an investment scheme for a high-class hotel, and help transferring money out of the country.
- The codename ABSCAM was first reported to be an abbreviation of “Arab Scam,” but after complaints from the Arab-American population it was later said to be shorthand for “Abdul Scam” instead.
- The mayor of Camden New Jersey, Angelo Errichetti was at the center of the scandal and served 3 years in prison, but was still beloved enough by his constituents to have the Camden city flags lowered to half mast upon his death in May of 2013.
- Larry Pressler (R-SD) refused to take the bribe as well saying on tape “Wait a minute. What you are suggesting may be illegal” and reported the meeting to the FBI. Later he was told Walter Cronkite called him a “hero” and Pressler stated, “What have we come to if turning down a bribe is considered heroic?”