Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Sting Man

The story behind the story sounds much more entertaining than the movie, and strikes me as ripe material for an HBO or AMC mini-series.

Ted Sherman lays out the story of The Sting Man in his article, the Jersey Hustle.  It makes much more sense than the movie, American Hustle, which spins wildly out of control at the midway point and never really recovers.  At the center of both stories is Melvin Weinberg, renamed Irving Rosenfield in the movie.  Christian Bale does his best to mimic the real-life con man, having spent three days with him in Florida.  Weinberg was close to 90 at the time, and seemingly still unrepentant.  However, David O. Russell, who wrote the script and directed the film, decided to give Rosenfield a more human touch.

Weinberg had been nabbed by the FBI for running a phony loan scam, which Russell depicts in the movie.  However, the relationship between Weinberg and the corrupt Camden mayor wasn't quite so chummy, nor heartfelt.  Weinberg liked Errichetti but felt he was rotten to the core, not the charming family man we see played by Jeremy Renner in the movie.  Errichetti was nailed early on in the FBI sting and came to play a pivotal role in Abscam helping to nail Congressmen and Jersey councilmen in return for a lesser sentence.  In the movie Errichetti (renamed Carmine Polito) only finds out about the scam in the end and helps Rosenfield (Weinberg) pull a fast one over on the FBI, who were trying to nail Florida mafia leaders as well.

Russell never gains control of the material in the film.  It's just too much to pack into two hours, especially when you add in two charming ladies in Sydney and Rosalyn, played to the hilt by Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence.  These two gals in their low cut dresses and blouses confuse the matter all the more, especially when Rosalyn (Rosenfield's wife) decides to take matters into her own hands.  Never the less, the film is very entertaining, underscored by a 70s soundtrack that takes in just about every major pop hit at the end of the decade.

In real life, Weinberg was the one who came up with the idea of using a phony Arab sheik as a front man for Abscam.  It started out as small time stings but grew into a big sting when the FBI finally nailed Errichetti.  It was the Camden mayor who was willing to sell out the Congressmen in return for a lesser sentence, with many of them entrapped by the FBI.  There wasn't much control over the operation, and the tapes show that Weinberg was coaching the Congressmen to use incriminating language and often forcing them to take the money, as favors were usually the order of the day, not cash.

When the Abscam story broke in the early 80s it became a black eye on the FBI, leading to a number of tighter regulations on sting operations.  It was also heavily criticized for the blatant Arab stereotypes used in Abscam,wich is an abbreviated version of Abdul Scam.  Nevertheless, all the Congressmen and Jersey officials were eventually indicted, but no major mafia convictions.  Weinberg pretty much walked away from the whole thing, retiring in Florida.

Sen. "Pete" Williams with the "Sheik"
It seems Sherman gleaned a lot of his material from The Sting Man, written in 1981 by Robert Greene, who was a reporter and editor for Newsday at the time the story broke.  The book, which has since been reprinted, also served as the inspiration for the movie.


  1. One of the things that bemused me about the film was why Bale went to all that trouble to look like Weinberg (minus the cigar, which was apparently always in his mouth) when the script drifted pretty far away from the actual story. It seems Bale becomes overly obsessed with these roles.

    The girls stole the show, IMO.

  2. Jennifer Lawrence, yes. Amy Adams' character wasn't all that convincing to me.

  3. She worked for me. The part I didn't buy was the mayor pulling all those guys into this scam. As the article noted, politicians generally tend to work for favors not cash, and Weinberg was the one forcing the Congressmen to take the cash. It makes more sense that the mayor became part of the scam to save his own hide, but it seems Russell became a little too obsessed with the relationship between the mayor and Irving.