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The Sting Man : The True Story Behind the Film American Hustle - Robert W. Greene

The Sting Man

The True Story Behind the Film American Hustle

Paperback

Published: 12th December 2013
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The Sting Man: The True Story Behind the Film American Hustle. The inspiration behind the film American Hustle, directed by David O'Russell (Silver Linings Playbook, The Fighter) and starring Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Adams.

How did a Bronx hustler nearly bring down the US government?

The Sting Man tells the inside story of Mel Weinberg. From hustling on the streets of the Bronx to selling bogus businesses and sham investments around the world, Weinberg netted millions of dollars. So legendary were his skills that in the late 1970s he was recruited by the FBI to combat art thieves and counterfeiters. But the trail quickly led to even bigger targets. His legendary sting operation, Abscam, caught eight corrupt congressmen and senators. The scandal shook America to the core.

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Robert W. Greene presents not only a thrilling account of the rise of the FBI's international con mastermind, but a vivid dissection of the underbelly of the American Dream. Can you really con an honest man?

About the Author

Robert W. Greene was a veteran reporter for more than twenty-seven years, a Senior Staff Investigator for the New York City Anti-Crime Committee and an investigator for the U.S. Senate. As a reporter for Newsday, he headed investigative teams that twice won the Pulitzer Prize gold medal. He was also president of the Investigative Reporters and Editors Group. He died in 2008.

1

The Man and the Scam

...I have nothin' to hide. I'm an open book; if I can make a buck, I make a buck. — MEL WEINBERG, 1979

The United States Courthouse for the Eastern District of New York is a white, concrete rectangle in what is known as downtown Brooklyn. It is a clean, efficient but graceless building, with a shabbily kept park fringed with maple trees opposite the main entrance, a cool haven from the hot summer sun and a nighttime refuge for muggers and perverts. A few blocks away, over the gargoyled façades of turn-of-the-century office buildings, the pillars of the Brooklyn Bridge spear the sky, dimly visible through a blue haze of exhaust fumes.

Motorists fight for parking spaces on the narrow street fronting the courthouse amid a confusion of signs warning that the block has been reserved for the parking convenience of government bureaucrats.

It was the shank of August 1980; at 9:00 a.m. on this day it was characteristically hot and humid in Brooklyn, and Federal workers raced the last few steps to reach the air-conditioned coolness of the lobby.

Despite the humidity the air was electric with anticipation. Television newsmen with their camera crews were assembling on the sidewalks, and press photographers congregated against the row of parked cars at the curb. It was during this preparatory moment of relative calm that a nondescript car with government plates eased down the street and abruptly nosed into a reserved parking spot.

The driver, a modishly slim FBI agent, quickly exited and walked around to the passenger side, glancing up and down the street as he moved. The agent nodded quickly and the passenger door sprang open. Out stepped Melvin (no middle initial) Weinberg.

Blinking owlishly in the sun despite his tinted, aviator-style sunglasses, Mel Weinberg snipped the end from a huge Te-Amo Toros cigar, jammed it into the corner of his mouth and scanned the sidewalk running to the courthouse door. 'Photographers,' he said to his companion, FBI Agent Tony Amoroso. Weinberg spoke softly. The only visual indication that he was talking was a slight up-and-down jiggle of the Churchillian cigar.

'Walk like we belong and they'll think we're part of the scenery,' said Amoroso. Weinberg grinned agreement and the two men moved down the street, past the idle photographers and into the courthouse. They took the elevator up to the third-floor offices of the Eastern District Federal Strike Force.

When the two men strolled into the large, nearly empty ready-room, several agents murmured automatic greetings before returning to their gin-rummy game. Weinberg and Amoroso slumped into easy chairs and sat quietly. They had worked together for nearly two years and felt no need to fill comfortable silence with useless words. Each was deep in his own thoughts.



Mel Weinberg took stock of himself. For a fifty-five-year-old confidence man, swindler, avid hustler of the fast buck, the avenues of life seemed to be merging this morning at the Brooklyn Federal Courthouse. He couldn't complain. For a runny-nosed kid who had barely graduated from grammar school, he hadn't done badly. Learning, always learning, he had progressed through a thirty-five-year career in white-collar crime—from hustling phony gold contracts over Formica-topped tables at all-night diners to lavish office suites on Long Island, a staff of 500 franchised salesmen and an annual cash income of more than $500,000.

He had worked North America and five other continents, fleecing public officials, movie stars, dictators, generals, mobsters, political terrorists and ordinary businessmen with democratic impartiality. His enemies regarded him as a conniving crook; neutrals called him a rogue, and a small army of underworld admirers and incredulous cops added to the legend daily as they swapped Weinberg stories in the world's bars, jails, cafés, courtrooms and whorehouses.

The money was good and, through the years, Weinberg had developed an appetite for first-class living. But, as he readily admits to himself and his few close friends, the real reward of scamming is the fun of the game. Each new 'mark,' or potential victim, was a new mind to be wrestled to the ground in a one-on-one battle of wits.

For a bright, agile-minded person like Weinberg, who compensates for his lack of education by sneering at books and passionately embracing the argot of the New York streets, there was heady satisfaction in skinning the powerful, well-educated elite of the business and government world. And he was able to quiet his few moral scruples by remembering an adage that had always been operational in the world of confidence games. The adage goes: You can't con an honest man.

Weinberg puffed on his cigar and gazed absently around the still quiet ready-room. Thoughts flowed through his mind in vagrant order. He pictured his mother, still going strong in her late seventies, by now up and about in her Miami condo. He was generous to his mother, as he had been to all the women in his life. He visited her often and was considerate about helping with matters important to her happiness. She in turn had a special affection for him despite her vocal reservations about the way he made his living.

He grinned as he recalled a recent telephone conversation between his mother and his sister Sylvia on Long Island. It was occasioned by headlined accounts of his career as a confidence man. 'Nobody else in the family ever did things like Mel,' she exclaimed. 'I don't know where he gets it from. But Mel is basically a good boy.'

All in all, thought Weinberg, he was satisfied with his life. There had been a few moments of pure terror, terror that turns legs to jelly and, as Weinberg would put it, makes 'the asshole so tight it can't pass a mustard seed.' There was, for example, the time he fleeced a young Miami lawyer out of $8,000 and afterward checked into the high-rise Holiday Inn in Hallandale to relax for a few days.

A few hours later he answered a knock on the door. In barged a New York hoodlum with a small band of helpers. The hoodlum, it seemed, was the mark's uncle, and he took the swindle as a gesture of personal disrespect. The thugs calmly opened a window and proceeded to push Weinberg out as he frantically tried to fast-talk his way back into the world of the living.

As he later recounted: 'I kept throwin' the names of big hoodlums at this guy and telling him that I was connected with them and they'd be mad at him if he killed me. They kept inchin' me outta the window and I kept tryin' for the magic name. I finally said it just before I grew wings.' But mostly he remembered the good times: Julie Podel ushering him to an upfront table on opening night at the Copa; the white flash of camera bulbs as the Lieutenant Governor of Texas made him an honorary citizen, blissfully unaware that he had just hustled some of the state's leading citizens for a quarter-million in cold cash; the respect he saw in the eyes of the lesser primates when the listing 'Herring with Sour Cream Weinberg' appeared on the menu at Orlando's, a popular Long Island watering spot.

And then there were the girls and the money. Lots of them and lots of it. Good times.

ISBN: 9780241970478
ISBN-10: 0241970474
Audience: General
Format: Paperback
Language: English
Number Of Pages: 336
Published: 12th December 2013
Dimensions (cm): 19.8 x 12.9  x 2.7
Weight (kg): 0.38