The sting was known as Abscam — short for Arab Scam — and it would see six members of the American House of Representatives convicted on corruption charges, plus the first sitting senator sentenced for a federal crime in more than 70 years.
But, instead of making him stand trial, the FBI had decided he was so good at scamming, they had recruited him, paid him a generous salary and retained his services for years. And it all began with socks. American Hustle: costumes of the year? Married to The Iceman. Was the real Lone Ranger black? Weinberg was born to a Jewish father and Swiss mother in the Bronx.
The Sting Man by Robert W. Greene (ebook)
Eventually, Weinberg missed the east coast and moved back to New York where he began selling glass. He soon graduated to advance-fee scams.
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In return for a fee paid in advance, Weinberg would offer loans to people with bad credit through a company he set up called London Investors. A period of obfuscation then followed, after which Weinberg would break the bad news: the loan had been turned down. Another scam involved what, in banking, is known as a certificate of deposit or CD. If you have half a million dollars in a legitimate bank, that bank can issue you with a CD which you can then use to secure a loan from another financial institution.
Weinberg would tell his clients that although the overseas bank he dealt with had rejected their loan application, it had agreed to send a CD showing a large sum had been deposited with them which his client could then use as security for a loan elsewhere. Naturally, for this there would be a fee. Weinberg knew that the key to success was looking the part: his office was always in a nice building; he bought the best furniture, the most expensive desks.
He was subsequently made an honorary citizen of Texas. In addition to a penchant for money, though, Weinberg had a weakness for women. Lots of them and lots of it. Eventually, Mary divorced him and he married Marie, but, five years after that, he started seeing someone else: an Englishwoman called Evelyn Knight. He maintained one home with Marie and another with Evelyn, both with identical decor.
Today, Weinberg lives in a retirement community an hour east of Orlando, Florida.
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Now in his eighties, he finds it difficult to get around — punishment, he says, for years of excess. He greets me at the door wearing a white sweatshirt and braces, jeans, and a pair of orange-tinted glasses.
The sting man
He leads me into his office and sits down at a large white desk. His life of crime could have come to an abrupt end in when he was arrested in Pennsylvania. He was charged with wire fraud, mail fraud and conspiracy and an arrest warrant was drawn up for his girlfriend, Evelyn, as well, who had been used by Weinberg unwittingly to add a touch of class to his operation.
To his shame, after initially hiding his mistress in a safe house, Weinberg handed her over to the feds. And so Abscam was born. Weinberg would pose as the representative of a fictitious Arab sheikh who wanted to invest in American businesses, buy stolen art, and bribe politicians in return for help with immigration issues.
In one particularly elaborate sting, the FBI told Weinberg about an art thief who had stolen millions of dollars worth of paintings. Except the art expert and the pilot were FBI agents.
The signal [for when the FBI would make an arrest] was when Bishop [one of the agents] put his pipe in his mouth. But, before the FBI steamed in, Weinberg needed an excuse to get away from the thief. The man had a gun and he was worried he might get injured in a gunfight. So, in typical uncouth fashion, he told the man he smelled. Weinberg removed himself from the group and, as he did so, he saw an agent running towards them.
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Weinberg pulls open a drawer in his desk and removes a leather-bound black book. The FBI had secretly and inescapably captured the evidence on grainy videotape, with corrupt public officials seen hungrily cramming tens of thousands of dollars of cash into pockets, envelopes, paper bags and briefcases, after pledging to trade the power of their positions for personal favors. Money talks in this business and bullshit walks.
It works the same way down in Washington. The two-year investigation featured Weinberg as the American representative of mythical Arab sheikhs—immensely wealthy, with ties to royalty—who were willing to pay off U. That an FBI agent from Cleveland who spoke no Arabic, working with him, successfully donned a robe and kaffiyeh to masquerade as a sophisticated sheikh at a yacht party in Florida was one thing.
Ultimately, he escaped a three-year prison sentence and won probation by agreeing to work undercover in the scheme that became Abscam.
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Not devoid of chivalry, in his plea deal, Weinberg further insisted on leniency for his English-born mistress, whom he feared he had implicated as an unknowing accomplice. By , when the Senate held hearings on Abscam and FBI undercover practices, the fact that the FBI had rehired Weinberg for Abscam, despite his having run the London Investors swindle while working as its informant, sparked outrage. But the chief concern in Congress was whether innocent lawmakers had been targeted and lured into committing crimes.