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Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Mel Weinberg, The Man Behind the Scam

It took me a while, but I finally had time this morning to pull up the Telegraph article in which my photograph of the very captivating Mel Weinberg appeared back in December. Unfortunately, my credit is misspelled and shows as "Betty Hansen", but I promise I was the one who took these photos. ;)

It was an interesting shoot, not so much because the photographs we took would blow you away, but because the stories this well-lived man had were straight out of a movie, literally. American Hustle, the movie, was based around this man's life. The Telegraph describes him as "the womanizing con artist enlisted by the FBI". His stories were just that. He didn't boast so much of womanizing, but proudly spoke of his undercover work and how he and his team took down corrupt politicians in 1980 in the states of Florida, New York and New Jersey. Originally a con artist arrested by the FBI for wire fraud, mail fraud and conspiracy, Weinberg made a deal with the FBI. His three year prison sentence would be turned into three years of probation in exchange for going undercover for three cases. He posed "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."

The stories go on, and if you want to read more about Weinberg himself, pop over to the article where you can also find additional references with reading material:

As for the shoot, Weinberg being of elder age, could get around, but not easily. I tried not to take up tons of his time with portraits. Half the time I photographed him while he was being interviewed by the writer. The other half we staged the photos. The Telegraph requested images of him holding items from the Abscam days, but he was resistant to have anything photographed because, as he stated it, he didn't want to get into any trouble. My solution was to photograph him with the images on his walls, which consisted of a portrait of a young Weinberg looking confident and smoking a cigar, a drawing by actor Peter Faulk, sketches of his boat (confidently named Up Yours) and two images of him being interviewed by famous newscaster Mike Wallace for 60 Minutes. (See the interview here.)

My favorite images from the day were the very close portraits of his face. I love the detail and the fact that you can see so much. I find it fascinating that behind this man's face is a lifetime of unique experiences.

I am honored to have been in the presence of a man who made such an interesting notch in American history.

The Original Undercover Abscam Video:

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