A ABSCAM ABSCAM, short for “Abdul scam,” was a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) sting operation of the late 1970s and early 1980s that led to the arrest and conviction of numerous corrupt politicians, including several members of the U.S. Congress. Over a two-year period, these politicians were offered large bribes from individuals posing as wealthy Arab businessmen who wanted to make investments in Amer- ica. Ultimately, seven members of Congress were convicted on bribery charges that were strengthened by videotaped evidence of meetings between the congress- men and the undercover “sheiks.” The scope of the investigation, the high-profile nature of the targets, and the resulting convictions make this one of the FBI’s most widely known sting operations. The ABSCAM sting operation began in March 1978 and was originally intended to be an investigation into forgery, stolen art, and theft. It was a joint FBI and Department of Justice operation with headquarters in the state of New York. For- mer con artist Melvin Weinberg played a key role in the FBI operation by creat- ing a phony company called Abdul Enterprises where FBI agents posed as sheiks seeking illegal influence. The FBI discovered that politicians were taking bribes in return for legislation that would help the sheiks gain access to such items as gambling licenses for casinos that the sheiks planned to open. Other financial inducements were given to government officials in exchange for their assistance in pursuing such interests as military contracts to help the mining industry. Video of the government sting operation captured the public’s imagination, both because of the scope of the corruption and because it suggested that U.S. politics was vulnerable to foreign influence. The bribery revelations hit particularly hard because the sting occurred only a few years after the Watergate affair that had led to the end of Richard Nixon’s presidency. These combined events were major con- tributors to a public decrease in trust in American government during the 1970s and early 1980s. ABSCAM remains one of the most readily identifiable government sting opera- tions ever conducted. It was controversial not only for the corruption it uncov- ered but also for the undercover methods used by the government. Some critics contended that these methods amounted to unlawful government entrapment of unwitting elected officials. However, the courts disagreed. All convictions were upheld on appeal. Nevertheless, the FBI eventually devised a new detailed set of undercover guidelines in order to prevent such controversies in the future. Darren Wheeler
Previous Page Next Page