When American Hustle opens on movie screens this weekend, it’s sure to remind us how deep the legacy of political corruption runs in Philly and revive memories of the Abscam scandal that once rocked this city.
Long before political power brokers Vince Fumo and John Perzel were carted off to jail, an FBI sting in the late 1970s and early 1980s netted a whole kettle of big fish. South Philly Congressman Ozzie Myers and five other congressmen, three Philly city councilmen, Camden’s mayor and a U.S. Senator were among those ensnared.
The new film is loosely based on that sordid time, when the FBI’s phony Arab sheik, who had bundles of real cash, sought special government favors from politicians. It was not a hard sell. And those juicy conversations took place right under our noses — at the Barclay Hotel in Rittenhouse Square.
At one of those meetings, Myers dropped the line that became a great gift to the American lexicon of crooked politics. “I’m going to tell you something real simple and short,” he famously said. “Money talks in this business and bullshit walks.”
For accepting $50,000 stuffed in an envelope, Myers was convicted of bribery and conspiracy and expelled from Congress. In 1981, he was sentenced to three years in prison and fined $20,000.
The next year, Murray Waas, a young freelance writer, wrote a compelling magazine piece called “The Rise and Fall of a Ward Hack.” If you’re looking for a solid piece of journalism that describes that time and place and the real Philly hustle, be sure to read this article, first published in the now-defunct Inquiry magazine. Waas recently offered City Paper the right to post his article online, knowing that the movie opening would spur renewed interest. You’ll find it below.
Waas, who grew up in Northeast Philly and Huntingdon Valley, once worked for muckraker Jack Anderson and went on to become one of the most important investigative journalists today.
The local connection also extends to an actor in the movie: Jenkintown’s own Bradley Cooper portrays the overzealous FBI agent.
Our critic, Sam Adams, reviewed the film this week. Check it out.
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