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American Hustle: History vs. Hollywood

Starring Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner
based on the FBI's Abscam operation carried out in the late 1970s and early 1980s

Christian Bale
Born: January 30, 1974
Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire, Wales, UK
Melvin 'Mel' Weinberg
Born: December 4, 1924
Bradley Cooper
Born: January 5, 1975
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA
Anthony Amoroso, Jr.
Born: 1939
Birthplace: Bronx, New York, USA
Jennifer Lawrence
Born: August 15, 1990
Louisville, Kentucky, USA
Cynthia Marie Weinberg
Death: January 28, 1982, Tequesta Hills, Florida, USA (suicide by hanging)
Jeremy Renner
Born: January 7, 1971
Modesto, California, USA
Angelo Errichetti
Born: September 29, 1928
Birthplace: Camden, New Jersey, USA
Death: May 16, 2013, Ventnor City, New Jersey, USA (undisclosed long illness)
You set a crook to catch a crook. We put the big honey pot out there and all the flies came to us. -Mel Weinberg, 60 Minutes, April 12, 1981

Questioning the Story:

Why did the filmmakers include the disclaimer, "This is a work of fiction," in the closing credits of the movie?

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.

Christian Bale and Mel Weinberg
Christian Bale's American Hustle character (left) shares obvious similarities with his real-life counterpart, Mel Weinberg (right), pictured smoking a cigar during a 60 Minutes interview.

How long had Melvin "Mel" Weinberg been living a life of crime prior to his capture?

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

Why did confessed con man Mel Weinberg agree to help the FBI?

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.

Wayne Newton
Las Vegas singer Wayne Newton was just one of Mel Weinberg's numerous victims.
Weinberg had been targeting desperate businessmen who had been denied loans from conventional banks. He charged them an advance fee for "appraisal and processing", telling them that the loan would be secured from a supposed offshore bank. When the loan never came through, he simply kept the advance fee and told his victims that the offshore bank had rejected their loan application. Most never even realized that they had been scammed. Among the most notable of his victims was Las Vegas legend Wayne Newton (pictured right), who Weinberg, along with his mistress Evelyn Knight and accomplice Patrick Francis, bilked out of $800, offering to secure the singer a million dollar loan in return (Uniontown Morning Herald).

Weinberg's luck ran out in 1977 when a real estate man from Pittsburgh reported him to the FBI. Arrested along with his mistress Evelyn Knight and conspirator Patrick Francis, he was indicted by a federal grand jury for mail fraud, wire fraud and conspiracy. Unlike what is seen in the movie, the real FBI agent behind Bradley Cooper's character Richie DiMaso, whose actual name is Anthony Amoroso, was not on hand for Mel and Evelyn's arrest. Agent Amoroso didn't meet con man Mel Weinberg until after Weinberg agreed to a deal to help the FBI.

Knowing that prison was Weinberg's only option, FBI agent John Good, who was in charge of the Abscam operation, made a deal with Weinberg in hopes that he could lead the FBI to more white collar prey. Like what is shown in the movie, Weinberg agreed to work on four cases in order to keep himself and his mistress out of jail. Once those cases were completed, Weinberg agreed to continue to work for the FBI, leading them to uncover the political corruption that the Abscam operation became known for. -60 Minutes

Was Melvin Weinberg paid for helping the FBI?

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 ( 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

Sydney Prosser
Amy Adams's Sydney Prosser character was inspired by Weinberg's real-life English-born mistress Evelyn Knight.
Did the real Irving Rosenfeld, Mel Weinberg, really have a mistress who helped him pull off cons?

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 ( 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.

How did Weinberg and his mistress first meet?

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.

Why was the FBI operation called "Abscam"?

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.

How long did the Abscam operation last?

The FBI Abscam operation lasted approximately two years, beginning in July 1978 and ending in 1980.

What was the purpose of the FBI's Abscam operation?

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.

Irving Rosenfeld and Richie DiMaso with phony sheik in the movie
Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) and FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) accompany their phony sheik (Michael Peña). In real-life, undercover FBI agents did in fact pretend to represent a rich Arab sheik.

The FBI used the fake company it had set up, Abdul Enterprises, to lure public officials who were suspected of corruption into taking bribes. Undercover agents posed as representatives of an oil-rich Arab sheik, and they arrived at meetings with suitcases full of cash in an attempt to bribe congressmen and other public officials into granting the sheik asylum in the U.S. and getting their "business" an Atlantic City casino license, among other things.

What role did Melvin Weinberg play in the Abscam operation?

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.

Is Bradley Cooper's character, Richie DiMaso, based on a real person?

Anthony Amoroso Abscam meeting with Rep. Frank Thompson
Bradley Cooper's character's real-life counterpart, FBI agent Anthony Amoroso (left), shakes hands with Rep. Frank Thompson (D-N.J.) after Thompson accepts bribe money.
Actor Bradley Cooper's American Hustle movie character, Richie DiMaso, most closely resembles real-life FBI agent Anthony Amoroso, Jr., especially with regard to his role in supervising Mel Weinberg (Irving Rosenfeld in the movie) and being the key undercover man in the FBI's Abscam operation. Like DiMaso in the movie, Amoroso operated on the edge, often going to great lengths and spending outlandish sums of money in order to catch his targets. He obtained a 65-foot yacht that had been seized by U.S. customs during a drug bust and used it to hold lavish parties with the politicians he was targeting. Tony had a virtually unlimited amount of spending money and often stayed at luxurious hotels, ate at expensive restaurants and drove equally impressive cars. He acted as the "moneyman" at the meetings and living extravagantly was his way of keeping up appearances and not blowing his cover. The reported total cost of the Abscam operation was around $600,000 (Washington Post).

"Tony had the toughest job," says Weinberg. "He had to make the decision to give them [the corrupt politicians] the money or not to give them it. Now, if he gave them the money and he did wrong, it was his neck. If he didn't give them the money and he did wrong, it was his neck. And he was under a lot of pressure." -60 Minutes

Did Mel Weinberg really own a legit dry-cleaning business like his counterpart, Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale), in the movie?

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

Did Mel Weinberg really have a heart problem?

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.

Is Jeremy Renner's character, Mayor Carmine Polito, based on a real person?

Jeremy Renner and Angelo Errichetti
Actor Jeremy Renner (left) as Mayor Carmine Polito in the movie and his real-life counterpart, Mayor Angelo Errichetti (right), in the 1973.
Yes. Camden, New Jersey Mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner) in the movie is based on real-life Camden, New Jersey Mayor Angelo Errichetti, who was taken into custody by the FBI on December 1, 1978, after accepting a bribe in exchange for promising to attempt to obtain Abdul Enterprises (the FBI's phony company) a casino license for Atlantic City. He accepted an immediate payment of $25,000 that was part of an agreed total bribe payment of $400,000.

"I can only blame myself for the tremendous ego I developed," says Errichetti, "the kind of ego that gets a politician into trouble." The FBI's investigation into Mayor Angelo Errichetti, who also served in the New Jersey senate, shifted the focus of its Abscam operation toward a major political corruption investigation, using the mayor as a gateway to bigger fish that led the FBI straight up D.C.'s political food chain.

Did Weinberg really develop a friendship with his target, Mayor Angelo Errichetti?

FBI Sheik and Mayor Angelo Errichetti
The real Mayor Angelo Errichetti (right) poses for a photo with the FBI's fake Arab sheik.
Yes. The American Hustle true story reveals that Mel Weinberg and his target, Mayor Angelo Errichetti, did develop a friendship of sorts, comparable on some levels to what is seen between Christian Bale and Jeremy Renner's characters in the movie. On one occasion, Mel even took Mayor Errichetti home to meet his mother Helen (The Sting Man). Weinberg alluded to his kinship with Errichetti in a 60 Minutes television interview. "I liked him," says Weinberg. "If I had met Errichetti five, six years ago, we would be some partners. I mean he was something else. He was terrific. ... He was a likable guy. I mean out of all the people that we dealt with, he was the most likable one. ... You knew where he was coming from. ... He wouldn't beat around the bush."

[spoiler] Did Mel Weinberg really con the FBI to help get the mayor a reduced sentence?

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.

Did Mel Weinberg's wife really confront his mistress?

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.

Marie Weinberg found dead
Mel Weinberg's wife Marie is found dead after an apparent suicide by hanging.
What happened to Mel Weinberg's wife in real life?

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.

Does the real Irving Rosenfeld, Mel Weinberg, have any children?

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.

How many people were convicted as a result of the FBI's Abscam operation?

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.

The Sting Man by Robert Greene
Read The Sting Man book
. Learn more about Mel Weinberg, Abscam and the true story behind American Hustle.
Why was the Abscam operation so controversial?

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.

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.

Mel Weinberg 60 Minutes Interview

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.

American Hustle Trailer, Related Interviews & Video

Explore the American Hustle true story via the related videos below. Watch the complete footage of the John Murtha Abscam meeting, view an interview in which Mel Weinberg defends accusations that he accepted stolen gifts during Abscam, and watch the American Hustle movie trailer.

 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.

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