Friday, December 13, 2013

The Sting Man: Inside Abscam by Robert W. Greene

The Sting Man: Inside Abscam by Robert W. Greene
Publisher:  Penguin
Pages: 324
Rating: 4/5

     In February 1980, the nation learned that the FBI had been conducting a sophisticated sting operation called Abscam in an effort to combat white-collar crimes such as art-theft, securities forgery, and counterfeiting.  Led by Mel Weinberg, international con man par excellence, the investigation soon revealed that there was a bigger game afoot.  Abscam eventually led to the convictions of a US Senator, several members of the House of Representatives, a gaggle of state and city officials, and a small army of lawyers and influence brokers who specialized in government favors.
     In The Sting Man, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Robert W. Greene presents not only an expose of the operation itself, but also a thrilling account of Weinberg's genesis as a small-time street hustler in the Bronx and his rise as the FBI's international con mastermind.  A rogue's story, as well as an unsettling lesson in civics, The Sting Man offers a vivid and fascinating look at the underbelly of the American Dream and poses the question: Can you really con an honest man?

In The Sting Man, Greene provides an all-inclusive account of Abscam.  In 1978, Amoroso and other FBI agents created a con to catch white-collar criminals.  They enlist the help of Melvin (Mel) Weinberg, a life-long confidence man, to structure their sting.  Mel had been coning people since the age of six in 1931 when he would steal gold stars from the teacher's desk to hide his failure from his mother.  He soon graduated into front-end scams building himself a large fortune.  With Mel's help, the FBI formulate a scam in which two agents pose as the American representatives of an imaginary Arab sheikh who wishes to invest billions and find permanent asylum in America.  Greene utilizes 237 interviews with Weinberg, FBI tapes and official court transcripts to trace how this con attracted elected public officials as well as the white-collar criminals it was originally designed to capture.

I picked up The Sting Man as it is the true story behind the upcoming film American Hustle.  Before I found this novel in Barnes and Noble, I thought that American Hustle was a fictional movie and had never heard of Abscam before.  Having finished the novel, I am amazed by the amount of corruption the FBI found. Numerous congressmen were named as possible targets and quite a few were actually convicted for trading money for pushing bills.  The power of greed is examined deeply in this story. Weinberg's philosophy of man emphasizes that all men are powered by greed. The idea of obtaining large amounts of money causes men to push aside all rational and moral judgement. Weinberg also talks about how hope helps a con man. People would rather hope that the money will eventually come rather than entertain the notion that they are being conned. I found these two insights extremely interesting and knowing them makes me hope I'll be harder to con! All in all, The Sting Man, while at times dry due to it's journalist author, outlines one of the few events in which the FBI fought against the government directly and was engaging, making me truly interested in the subject, and chock full of facts, making me confident in my knowledge of this historical event.

Follow on Bloglovin

No comments:

Post a Comment