American Hustle: The Real Story Behind Abscam

Click Play for Erin O'Hearn's report
February 27, 2014 7:23:14 AM PST
The Oscar-nominated film "American Hustle" has put the spotlight back on Philadelphia. It's loosely based on one of the biggest political shakedowns in our area. Now a local politician caught in that scandal is telling his story.

The investigation was called ABSCAM and at the time it brought down the mayor of Camden, members of Philadelphia City Council, a U.S. Senator and 6 members of Congress including Philadelphia's Ozzie Myers.

Myers spoke exclusively with Action News about his involvement in ABSCAM and his thoughts on the box office hit.

The sting was a set up by the FBI and meant to bust small time crooks peddling stolen art.

Like the plot in "American Hustle", the investigation would eventually lead to the shakedown of dozens of local political power-brokers.

Former Congressman Ozzie Myers was one of the politicians targeted by the feds and caught on the grainy undercover video. It happened August 1979 in a back room of New York's JFK Airport.

Myers was then fresh-faced congressman representing Pennsylvania's 1st district. He's shown on surveillance video meeting someone whom he thought was an Arab Sheikh looking to invest in a then-growing Atlantic City and the Port of Philadelphia.

"They wanted to meet important people," Myers recently told Action News.

Of course this so-called wealthy Arab sheik was a fictitious player in an elaborate set up by the FBI. At this particular meeting, Myers was joined by then Camden mayor Angelo Errichetti and convicted conman Mel Weinberg who was working as an informant for the FBI.

"I thought I could help my constituency out," Myers told Action News. "Jobs, investing money all kinds of stuff... A lot was said off-camera."

Meyers was told the wealthy Arabs were known to give out lavish gifts.

After the meeting, the congressman was given an envelope. In it was $15,000 cash.

Action News asked Myers if he saw the $15,000 as an exchange for his help.

"I saw it as a campaign contribution," Myers responded.

Undercover feds saw otherwise, since the congressman did not spend the money on his campaign. The bust would notoriously become one of the biggest political corruption cases in our area. Myers was kicked out of congress, convicted and served more than 2 years in jail.

"Why was I selected and brought into something like this for no particular reason? I mean I had no criminal background," Myers said.

Now, almost 35 years later, Myers still maintains he was set up by an overzealous and reckless FBI just as the film "American Hustle" portrays.

"They were baiting up the hook for any kind of fish to grab. That's how they played this game," Myers says.

Myers story didn't make the film. In fact, he says producers never reached out to him to get his account of the story, even though he is one of the few that is still alive.

The ultimate conman in this story, Mel Weinberg, was reportedly paid $250,000 for his perspective.

"It's about Weinberg in my opinion, and Erichetti, than it is about the true story of ABSCAM," Myers contends.

Still decades later, Ozzie Myers tells Action News that although he used the cash at the time for personal reasons, it was always his intention to pay his campaign back.

Myers now lives a modest lifestyle with his family in South Philadelphia.


Load Comments