The Sting Man: Inside Abscam
by Robert W. Greene
Originally published 1982
Paperback, ISBN 9780143125273
Barnes and Noble
The movie American Hustle released late last year captivating audiences with its improvised dialogue, crazy hairstyles, 1970s fashion and style and performances by top actors including Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper and Jeremy Renner. The film wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea but it nonetheless received much admiration and acclaim and garnered 10 Academy Award nominations (Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor – Bradley Cooper, Best Supporting Actress – Jennifer Lawrence, Best Director – David O. Russell, Best Actor – Christian Bale, Best Actress – Amy Adams, Best Original Screenplay, Best Costume Design, Best Film Editing and Best Production Design). At first viewing of this film, I felt a little let down. However, as soon as I walked out of the theatre I kept thinking of the film and its been on my mind ever since. Something about the movie just stuck with me and got me thinking. One of my primary thoughts is that the film might be ahead of its time. I tend to chuckle at this notion considering the fact that the film is about the past. We may not fully appreciate it now (or perhaps we shall depending on how many Oscars it receives) but we may appreciate its genius in the future.
After seeing the movie, I was browsing my favorite sites online and saw that Biographile (a site run by Penguin Random House) featured The Sting Man: Inside Abscam by Robert W. Greene in an article. This book, published in 1982, is the definitive tome about Abscam. I entered Biographile’s giveaway and was one of the lucky winners! As soon as I got the book I started devouring it right away.
Abscam had been in the works for a few years and the FBI’s key man behind the sting was the notorious con man Mel Weinberg (Irving Rosenfield as played by Christian Bale in the film). Greene’s book follows the life of Weinberg, his early start as a con artist, his successful career conning people left and right, his romantic relationships including with his mistress Lady Diane/Evelyn (Lady Edith/Sydney as played by Amy Adams in the film), his inevitable capture by the FBI and his involvement in Abscam. While the film American Hustle is about Abscam and the filmmakers heavily relied on this book as a source of information, the film was not intended to be faithful to the original story. For example, Diane had no role in Abscam. Her participation in the Abscam is a figment of the clever filmmaker’s imagination. The real Abscam was essentially a men’s club.
The book is only 324 pages but took me quite a long time to read. Scams and cons are often really complex and this book is crammed with details. There are so many names that its hard to keep track of them all. The author uses surnames frequently enough so you can keep track of who he is referring to. But for the most part there are too many names to keep straight. For the most part, Abscam seemed overly complicated but the incredible attention to detail was necessary for what they wanted to accomplish: getting members of Congress and the Senate on tape accepting a bribe. Greene takes his time going through every single phase of Abscam. This is necessary because, although the information can be overwhelming, you get the overall sense that Abscam was a long and complicated process.
Throughout the book there are breaks that feature transcripts from tape recordings and scenes from Mel Weinberg’s life and cons. These are often entertaining breaks and a chance to pause and catch your breath before diving into more complicated details of the scam. There are plenty of these breaks and you’ll look forward to reading each and every one once they appear.
The book follows Weinberg’s life up until Abscam and then devotes a lot of time to the Abscam scandal but only one small chapter to the aftermath. Because the book was written and published so soon after the scandal broke, there might not have been enough time for the fallout of the scandal to fully develop or people may have read enough about the aftermath and wanted more about how it started and how it worked. Greene writes in a very chronological manner, hardly ever going back into time for information. This keeps readers on the straight and narrow. Deviations might have been too confusing for the reader. The last chapter was added after the book’s publication and provides us with the final chapter in the tragic life of Marie (Rosalyn as played by Jennifer Lawrence in the film), Mel’s second wife.
If you loved American Hustle and are really curious about Abscam and this moment in US history, I highly recommend reading The Sting Man. The events in Mel Weinberg’s life and in Abscam are exciting and often shocking and surprising. It certainly was a wild ride!