On February 2nd, 1980, the world learned about a secret, high-level investigation into corruption and organized crime called ABSCAM.
ABSCAM was an FBI sting operation in the late 1970s and early 1980s that was initially targeting trafficking and stolen property, but morphed into an investigation into public corruption.
7 members of congress and other political figures were convicted of crimes including bribery and conspiracy.
The FBI utilized the Justice Department, and a convicted con-artist to videotape politicians accepting bribes from a fake Arabian company in exchange for political figures.
Ultimately, 6 members of the House of Representatives, 1 senator, a member of the New Jersey State Senate, 2 Philadelphia city councilmen, the mayor of Camden, New Jersey and an inspector for the US Immigration and Naturalization Service were convicted.
ABSCAM began in March of 1978 by John F. Good in the FBI. They had originally planned to investigate theft, forgery and stolen art.
The FBI employed Melvin Weinberg, a convicted thief and international con-artist and his girlfriend Evelyn Knight to plan and help conduct the operation.
Together, they made a fake company called Abdul Enterprises and the FBI employees posed as Arab sheikhs who had millions to invest in U.S. businesses. They even funded a 1 million dollar account with the Chase Manhattan Bank under the company's name to give it legitimacy.
But after everything was set up, a forger who was under their investigation suggested that they should invest in casinos in New Jersey, and tipped them off that, for a price, licensing could be obtained. This lead them to re-target the operation toward political corruption.
They targeted 30 political figures. Each who was approached was promised a large sum of money in exchange for various things, including allowing those associated with Abdul Enterprises into the country for building permits and licenses for casinos in Atlantic City.
The first to get caught was Camden Mayor ANgelo Errichetti, who told them, "I'll give you Atlantic City". He ended up recruiting many government officials and congressmen, telling them that they could grant favors to this company in exchange for money.
The FBI recorded each of the money exchanges and had them on tape accepting the bribes. Each politician got a separate trial, and many of their lawyers argued entrapment, but each time it was overruled.
THE GUILTY PARTIES
Those convicted for crimes during ABSCAM were: US Senator Harrison Williams, US Representatives Frank Thompson, John Jenrette, Richard Kelly, Raymond Lederer, Michael Myers and John Murphy, Camden, NJ Mayor Angelo Errichetti, Pennsylvania City Council President George X Schwartz, Philadelphia City Councilmen Harry Jannotti and Louis Johanson, and an unnamed inspector for US Immigration.
Angelo Errichetti was the first to fall into the trap who recruited many of the convicted people to the "Arab businessmen." He was convicted of federal bribery, and served 3 years in jail.
Harrison Williams, the senator, was convicted on 9 counts of bribery and conspiracy to use his place in office to aid in illegal business ventures. He served 2 years in jail and was the first senate member to be imprisoned in 80 years. He resigned before he could be expelled, which would have made him the first expulsion since the civil war.
Frank Thompson served 2 years in prison for helping the "Arabs" overcome immigration laws in exchange for money.
John Murphy was introduced to the scheme by Frank Thompson, and accepted money for resources. He was only charged with conspiracy and not bribery, as he was not filmed taking the money like the others were. Regardless, he served 3 years in prison.
Richard Kelly was the only republican politician involved in the scandal. He said that he was actually running his own investigation and that the FBI ruined his, but this did not stand in court and he served 13 months. In 1982, his conviction was overturned on grounds of entrapment.
John Jenrette resigned before being expelled from the House of Representatives. He was recorded saying, about the bribe, that he "had larceny in [my] blood. I'd take it in a goddamn minute."
The investigation became public on February 2, 1980, and immediately there were ethics questions about both the sting operation as a whole, and the con artists involvement, especially in selecting the targets. He was a convicted criminal, but he avoided prison and was paid for his help in the operations.
On January 5, 1981, the first guidelines for undercover operations were published, with hopes to avoid questions of ethics in the future. The ABSCAM operation also led to the Civiletti Guidelines, Smith Guidelines, Thornburg Guidelines and Reno guidelines.