TODAY   |  March 01, 2014

Inside the scandal that inspired ‘American Hustle’

While the movie “American Hustle” is billed as fiction, it’s hard to miss the filmmakers disclaimer that, as they say, “some of this actually happened.” NBC’s Chuck Todd reports.

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>>> movie " american hustle " is certainly getting a lot of buzz these days, nominated for ten academy awards , including best picture . and while the film is billed as fiction, it is loosely based on a scandal that shook congress to its core back in 1980 . chuck todd has the story of the real " american hustle ."

>> reporter: oscar hopeful, " american hustle ," seems like a mad cap caper that only hollywood could invent.

>> who's running this? i thought you were running this.

>> i am, but you have to listen to him. he's the guy with the vision.

>> reporter: in fact, it's based on a real american hustle, an fbi sting called abscam that engulfed congress in 1980 .

>> the biggest political scandal to hit washington since watergate.

>> reporter: and it was the first made-for-tv scandal resulting in convictions of seven members of congress, including a senator and other politicians, all caught on state-of-the-art surveillance taking thousands of dollars in bribes from phony arab sheikhs. one congressman actually stuffing cash in his suit with investigators claiming later he was hiding it from the mob. and like christian bale 's irving rosenfeld, abscan's mastermind was also a con man. melvin weinberg , a flashy, bronx-born swindler turned paid fbi informant . we caught up with weinberg , now retired in florida. how'd you become a confidence man?

>> oh, it was easy. you want to make a buck? i seen what was going on back in them days, and everybody was charging people points to get a construction loan or a mortgage.

>> reporter: first targeting white-collar crime, weinberg and the fbi set up abdul enterprises, representing two mystical arab sheikhs eager to invest money in the united states . the fbi had set up stings up and down the east coast , from miami to new york, philadelphia and new jersey, and of course, here in washington , d.c., where two congressmen, frank thompson and john murphy , were caught on tape taking bribes in this very house, a house that the fbi was renting from an unsuspecting " washington post " reporter. the tapes produced memorable moments, including congressman ozzie myers uttering these infamous words --

>> money talks in this business, and bull [ bleep ] talks. it's the same way in washington ."

>> reporter: to this day, myers says he and other lawmakers were entrapped by the fbi .

>> no one was ever predisposed to any kind of criminal activity.

>> reporter: the u.s. attorney in new jersey during abscam who worked on the case sort of agrees, calling the operation unsavory.

>> the politicians disgraced themselves by going before the camera, but the justice department disgraced itself as well. they didn't control this investigation, and they let weinberg run rampant on it.

>> reporter: today, anscam's not just another black mark on washington , now it's part of hollywood mythology. for "today," chuck todd , nbc