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While the majority of the movie characters can be linked to real people, the filmmakers chose to change their names and open the film with a title card that informs us, "Some of this actually happened." As we began our research into the American Hustle true story, it quickly became clear that characters had been altered (mostly to be more comedic) and the truth had been exaggerated for the film. A more serious story of political corruption has been re-imagined into a comedy where history replays itself as farce. In addition, most of the characters were significantly older in real life than they are portrayed to be onscreen, short of Bradley Cooper's FBI Agent Richie DiMaso and Irving Rosenfeld's mistress Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams). The real Irving Rosenfeld, Mel Weinberg, was in his mid-fifties at the time of the movie's events and his wife (portrayed by the much younger Jennifer Lawrence in the film) was approaching her late forties.
As indicated in the American Hustle movie, prior to his capture by the FBI, Mel had been living a life of delinquency ever since he was a boy growing up in the Bronx. It was then that he stole gold stars from his teacher's desk in order to show his mother what an excellent student he was. That was only a small indication of what lied ahead. When his father's window-glass business was on the rocks, a helpful Mel drove around town in a Cadillac, shooting out windows with his slingshot. His father's business surged. His delinquency as a juvenile eventually evolved into large scale swindles as an adult. -Washington Post
The real Irving Rosenfeld, Mel Weinberg, had been running get-rich-quick schemes that mainly included insurance fraud and various other investment scams. His swindling days ended when the FBI nabbed him for operating a bogus international banking and investment firm, London Investors, out of a furnished leased office in Melville, Long Island.
Yes. With regard to the American Hustle true story, not only did Melvin Weinberg avoid a three-year prison sentence, he was paid $150,000 of taxpayers' money for helping to stage and execute the Abscam operation (Justice.gov). This was also due to the fact that after he had helped the FBI with the four cases he agreed to as part of his deal to avoid jail time, they offered to pay him to stay on and help them with Abscam. "A lot of that is expenses if you look at it," says Weinberg. When asked by interviewer Mike Wallace if he stayed with the FBI out of fear, patriotism, or simply as another way to make a buck, Weinberg replied, "Strictly for the money." -60 Minutes
Yes. Sydney Prosser, portrayed by Amy Adams (pictured left) in the American Hustle movie, was indeed inspired by a real-life individual. As noted in Robert W. Greene's book The Sting Man, Mel Weinberg had a longtime English-born mistress named Evelyn Knight, who had arrived in the U.S. in 1970 and had helped him pull off cons before he was arrested and started working with the FBI. Weinberg often passed her off as Lady Evelyn, one of the world's richest women (People.com). It should be noted that Evelyn was in fact born in England, which differs from Adams's movie character, a former stripper from New Mexico who pretends to pass herself off as a Brit named Lady Edith.
Though Evelyn did cross paths with Mayor Errichetti one night while she was out to dinner with Weinberg, she never became involved in the Abscam operation like she does in the movie, nor did she develop a flirtatious relationship with an FBI agent, as she does with Bradley Cooper's character.
In 1979, when Weinberg and his wife Marie moved to Florida at the height of Abscam, he made sure to purchase a condominium not far from his mistress Evelyn, whom he had already set up in a condo shortly after their arrest. To explain the second residence, he told his wife that he was helping a trucking official from England. Just over a month after his estranged wife's suicide on January 28, 1982, Mel Weinberg married Evelyn, who was nineteen years his junior (The New York Times). The former partners in crime later divorced.
According to Robert Greene's book The Sting Man, Mel Weinberg met his British-born mistress, Evelyn Knight (portrayed by Amy Adams in the American Hustle movie), at a New York cocktail party sponsored by the British government. After a relationship developed, she took him to England to meet her parents.
As we probed the American Hustle true story, we quickly learned that the FBI sting operation that was nicknamed Abscam is a contraction of Abdul Scam, which refers to the phony company set up by the FBI, Abdul Enterprises.
The FBI Abscam operation lasted approximately two years, beginning in July 1978 and ending in 1980.
Originally, the goal of Abscam, an FBI operation run out of the Hauppauge, Long Island office, was to target underworld figures who were trafficking stolen art (as seen in the movie). The success of that investigation introduced agents to criminals dealing in fake stocks and bonds. From there, the FBI's criminal contacts led them to politicians who were willing to accept bribes. It was at this point that Abscam became a political corruption investigation.
Like Christian Bale's character in the American Hustle movie, the real Irving Rosenfeld, Melvin Weinberg, was instrumental in staging the Abscam operation. He assisted the FBI in selecting potential targets and contacted a variety of individuals to tell them that his principals (in this case the concocted Arab sheik) were looking to invest large sums of money in exchange for various political favors. -Justice.gov
Yes. At one point, the real Irving Rosenfeld, Mel Weinberg, owned a total of twenty-six dry-cleaning stores in Queens, operating under the name Ditmars Cleaners. -The Sting Man
Yes. The Sting Man book mentions Weinberg having a "spasm of pain in his chest," after which he went to see a doctor. It also mentions him carrying high blood pressure and heart pills as part of his everyday accoutrements.
No. Although the real Weinberg was sorry to see Mayor Angelo Errichetti get busted, the movie's twist ending is pure fiction. Weinberg never hustled the FBI in order to gain leverage so that he could get the mayor a reduced sentence.
Yes, although it didn't happen quite like it does in the film, nor did it happen in a ladies' room. In the movie, we see Irving Rosenfeld's wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence) confront his mistress Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) in a heated blow-up that nearly becomes a catfight. In real life, Mel Weinberg's wife Marie grew suspicious, and she went to the condo that he told her he had been providing for a trucking official from England named Sir Robert Gordon. She discovered he was lying and confronted his English-born mistress Evelyn Knight. Mel stayed upstairs during the confrontation.
On January 28, 1982, Marie Weinberg's body was found on the staircase of a vacant condominium next to her own in Tequesta Hills, Florida. She had committed suicide by hanging herself after drinking alcohol with a depressant (The New York Times). A note discovered on the kitchen table read, "My sin was wanting to love and be loved, nothing more. But [a] campaign is being made by Mel to discredit me. I haven't the strength to fight him anymore.... Everything I have attested to is the truth."
It was only a few months prior that she had discovered her husband's mistress, Evelyn Knight, after which Marie had demanded a divorce from Mel. She also claimed that he had taken $45,000 in payoffs from one Abscam defendant and accepted gifts from middlemen, subsequently giving away expensive suits and furniture to FBI agents. Not long before her death, she showed an interviewer one such gift, a microwave of which she said Mel had filed off the serial number (Watch the Marie Weinberg Interview). Mayor Angelo Errichetti claims to have given Mel the microwave (as depicted in the movie). Marie's allegations tarnished Weinberg's image with regard to his involvement in the Abscam sting. -People.com
Like Christian Bale's character in the American Hustle movie, Mel Weinberg has an adoptive son. However, unlike the movie, his son is not the biological offspring of his wife. Instead, he and his wife Marie adopted a boy in 1963. They named him Mel Jr. and called him "J.R.". In real life, his son was a teenager at the time of the events in the movie, not a child. Weinberg also has three children from a previous marriage that ended in divorce. -People.com
As a result of the two-year operation, one senator, six congressmen and more than a dozen other criminals and corrupt officials were taken into custody and convicted. This includes Senator Harrison "Pete" Williams (D-NJ) and six members of the House of Representatives. These six include Raymond Lederer (D-PA), Michael "Ozzie" Myers (D-PA), Frank Thompson (D-N.J.), John M. Murphy (D-N.Y.), John Jenrette (D-SC), and Richard Kelly (R-FL).
Other convicted government officials include Camden, New Jersey Democratic Mayor Angelo Errichetti, several members of the Philadelphia City Council and an inspector for the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
Abscam generated controversy in part due to the lengths that the FBI went to in order to ensnare its targets. This included the use of the "sting" technique and allowing Melvin Weinberg, a known con man and informant, to be involved in selecting the targets. Questions emerged about whether the undercover tactics used, including the creation of attractive criminal scenarios, led to entrapment. In the end, the courts upheld all of the convictions on appeal, even though some judges scrutinized the FBI's strategies and lack of FBI and DOJ supervision. Abscam was considered a success by the FBI, despite the controversy. -Justice.gov
Others wanted more oversight and in the wake of Abscam, U.S. Attorney Benjamin Civiletti issued "The Attorney General Guidelines for FBI Undercover Operations" ("Civiletti Undercover Guidelines") on January 5, 1981, which formally laid down ground rules regarding procedures necessary to carry out undercover operations. Congressional hearings were held to discuss Civiletti's guidelines, at which time concerns were expressed over the undercover agents' involvement in illegal activity, the prospect of damaging the reputations of innocent civilians, the possibility of entrapping individuals, and the opportunity to undermine legitimate rights to privacy. Ultimately, these concerns led to at least three more sets of stricter guidelines being issued in the years that followed. -Justice.gov
April 12, 1981: 60 Minutes correspondent Mike Wallace sits down with former con man Melvin Weinberg, the real-life individual on which Christian Bale's American Hustle character Irving Rosenfeld was based, for a candid interview. Wallace asks Weinberg about his history as a criminal, his role in Abscam, and which corrupt politicians were the smartest and which were the easiest to catch. The interview is conducted at a bar and Weinberg even lights up a cigar during their discussion.
|John Murtha's Abscam Meeting Footage|
The entire footage of Pennsylvania Representative John Murtha's controversial Abscam meeting on January 7, 1980. Decide for yourself. Did Murtha intend to take the FBI's bribe money? FBI agent Anthony Amoroso, who is the real-life counterpart to Bradley Cooper's Richie DiMaso character in the American Hustle movie, attempts to bribe Murtha. The congressman turns down the bribe but seems to indicate that he might be interested in the future. "We do business for a while, maybe I'll be interested and maybe I won't," Murtha says in the video.
|Mel Weinberg Abscam Interview|
In this January 21, 1982 interview segment from 20/20, Mel Weinberg defends himself against accusations made by his estranged wife that he accepted inappropriate gifts during the Abscam operation, including three gold watches that he says he turned over to the government. His wife Marie shows a reporter a microwave that she claims Mel filed the serial number off of.
|Marie Weinberg Death|
A 20/20 report on the death of Marie Weinberg, wife of con man Melvin Weinberg. The report aired on January 28, 1982, the day Marie Weinberg's body was discovered near her Florida home. She died from an apparent suicide by hanging. She left a note in which she emphasized her position on her husband's actions during Abscam and stated that she could no longer endure the threats being made by her husband toward her. In the months prior, Marie had attempted to reveal that her husband had accepted gifts during the Abscam operation.
|American Hustle Trailer|
The American Hustle movie trailer for the film directed by David O. Russell and starring Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence, Jeremy Renner and Robert De Niro. Bale plays a con man recruited by an FBI agent (Cooper) and eventually assists in taking down corrupt U.S. Congressmen and government officials. The movie is a fictionalized account of the FBI Abscam operation executed in the late 1970s and early 1980s that led to the convictions of a U.S. Senator, six members of the House of Representatives, and other government officials.