I reached out to retired FBI agent Myron Fuller regarding the notorious ABSCAM case involving political corruption, international money laundering and mafioso, ties between New Jersey municipal corruption and the Philly mob and more in preparation for my upcoming book about the Kai the Hitchhiker case. If you’re interested in learning more, I highly recommend checking out the interview he did with former FBI agent, podcaster, author and consultant Jerri Williams about the case that the movie American Hustle was (very, very loosely) based on.
Philip Fairbanks: The ABSCAM case, I assume, was considered a source of pride and a successful operation at the time, but Congress and the media seemed none too pleased. Was it frustrating seeing the operation skewered?
Myron Fuller: Among several crisis that occurred during the three years running (July 1977 – January 1980) of Abscam, the US Congress was the most threatening to the FBI’s use of Court accepted “Agent Provocateur” Undercover technique against subjects who were accused of asking or accepting large sums of money in exchange for the use of their Government position and power to benefit themselves and bypass the legal methodology of granting or supporting contracts.
Although I did not create the Undercover operation to target Public Corruption, when we were led to that opportunity by a subject of Organized Crime with relative ease, the FBI did not hesitate to recognize and pursue corruption. Based on existing evidence, I set up Abscam to penetrate the criminal relationship between sophisticated White Collar Crime conmen and members of the Five Families of Organized Crime in the New York Metropolitan area. I had learned that conmen and Gambino members had taken over Iverson Cycle Co. in Queens.
When our first opportunity to meet with Public Officials was presented to myself, as undercover Myron Wagner, and Cooporative Witness Mel Weinberg, we followed the trail of evidence. The term “predication” has always been used in the FBI to open a case. Being in New York City, neither myself nor my superiors were discouraged by Congress nor the media, as long as what we did was within the Rule of Law. When the media begin to attack Weinberg, our main witness, it was a huge concern because if he is impeached, then Abscam would be tainted in all of its’ 25 separate cases leading to the prosecution of more than 50 subjects from the ranks of Mafia, Conmen and Public figures in approximately a dozen Federal Districts located in 10 States.
The countries of Canada, United Kingdom and Switzerland were also in the mix, which would have felt the failures of the FBI. As to Congress, the FBI was cleared following their Hearing on FBI Undercover Operations. The complaint was that the FBI had commenced a “political” investigation against Congress and was targeting Democrat Representatives. That presumption was due to a FBI Supervisor in New York that lied to FBI HQ on the mission of Abscam, falsely advising that Abscam only begin when we had the opportunity to investigate Public Officials.
I cleared that up when I testified before the Congressional Hearing and so advised James Neal, who was leading the Hearing investigation. I explained that Abscam was initiated against the Mafia and Conmen some eighteen months before myself and Mel met a Mafia/Conman named Bill Rosenberg in Manhattan, who led us directly to Angelo Errichetti, Mayor of Camden, NJ. All of the Public Corruption subjects in NJ, New York, Pennsylvania, Washington, DC, North Carolina and Florida, who accepted bribes and prosecuted were linked directly back to Errichetti, either directly or through one or two other persons. While some media was critical, I gave information directly to a reporter who ran front page articles in Philadelphia and Miami, who was factual and not critical. The most threatening crisis was when the media reported that Mel had made money by peddling counterfeit bank notes to Mayor Errichetti and others. I became embroiled in this as did the DOJ and the Federal Court in Brooklyn. It is a long story, but it came down to my decision to not raise the matter to OPR FBI or nor DOJ, which could have sabotaged the integrity of the FBI and a US Attorney in Brooklyn.
Philip Fairbanks: ABSCAM played a major role in the primary elections once the story broke. Was it surprising to see that Lederer and Murtha for instance managed to still win reelection despite their being embroiled in bribery and money laundering?
Myron Fuller: I was not surprised that Lederer and Murtha were forgiven for attending a meeting in which unlawful activities were discussed, since they declined to accept the bribe. When high ranking Public figures became subjects in Abscam, the FBI at the Headquarters, including the Director, and DOJ became the “supervisors”. No bribe payment was made without a request made by FBI NYC, Newark, Philadelphia, et al, and approval at the Director level was confirmed by teletype, which was the immediate paper communication back then. I did not follow the political fallout of Abscam that closely, and did not see the case as being for nor against either party. To me they were subjects of an investigation, period.
Philip Fairbanks: Did you see the movie American Hustle? If so, what did you think about it? Felt like a wasted opportunity personally turning such an engaging case into a highly fictionalized love triangle movie.
Myron Fuller: Regarding “American Hustle”, as a retired Agent, I was the “FBI consultant” and spent time with Asst. Producer Richard Suckle, Script Writer Eric Singer, Actors Christian Bale, Bradly Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, et al. I read the scripts before they were decided on the final cuts. I wanted the movie to be more accurate, but that would have presented legal problems for the Attorneys. I agree that it wasted an opportunity to tell a “one of a kind” historic story.
No FBI Agent(s) before Abscam and none since have accomplished what Abscam was able to do. I happened to be in the right place (NYC) at the right time (1977) when developing events and factors enabled myself to use informants, wire taps (Title III), undercover operation, searches, etc, as well as backstopping from a VP at Chase Manhattan Bank, a former Department of State employee, and on-demand access to $3.2 Million in cash at CMB in my undercover name. As it turned out, the movie did quite well, making some $250Million and received 10 nominations for Emmy awards. Hollywood knows what sells, which is usually fiction over facts.
Philip Fairbanks: How often are cases of wire fraud involving judges, politicians and other people who can trade on their positions of power a sign of bribery?
Myron Fuller: On how often do cases of wire fraud involving pubic officials become a sign of corruption, I do not know. You might call the White Collar Crime Division at HQ for that information. In Abscam, it was the conmen frauds against US banks that led us to the involvement of the Mob, in particular members of Colombo, Gambino and Lucchese families. The efforts by undercover Agents Jim Wedick and Jack Brennen, who developed Operation Fountain Pen investigations, came to NYC and helped us obtain probable cause for a Title III against Fred Pro and Phil Kitzer, who owned Seven Oaks Finance in London, a sham bank that was used against hundreds of banks in the US.
I encouraged David Howard to writhe the book, “Chasing Phil”, in which Agents Wedick and Brennen are featured, along with my assistance on the NYC part. The Euro-Afro-Asiatic Trust in Liechtenstein, also a fraudulent bank, was used by Andy D’Amato to defraud the largest bank in Connecticut. I met D’Amato in an undercover scenario and he was charged under Abscam in the SDNY, NY . He and Donald Trump discussed purchasing the Fountainbleu Hotel in Miami, using Euro-Afro-Asiatric Turst as a source. I interviewed Trump regarding this (see Newsweek for article), and be admitted that he had an interest, but chose not to purchase the hotel. (Trump later became a source for someone in the FBI office in NYC). Your question on fraud is a big one and covers a wide area.
Philip Fairbanks: Seems there have been multiple connections between the Philly mob and cases of New Jersey corruption, how long has this connection existed and what are some reasons for it?
Myron Fuller: You are correct on the criminal relationship between NJ and Philadelphia. My personal knowledge is due to our encounter with Camden Mayor Errichetti. When he saw that we were in the business of paying politicians for favors, he took us directly across the Delaware River to the ubiquitous target rich arena of Pennsylvania. It appeared to us back in the 1970’s and ’80’s, that the corruption and Mob control from the Families of NYC, had direct ties to NJ, and that NJ had the same connections with Pennsylvania. We saw the same connection between NYC and Connecticut.
This practice had historic connections by the Mob. As you know, there was a meeting of some 70 Mob leaders in Appalachin, NY in 1957, at which they discussed how to work together when necessary across state lines. I am currently working on a matter in Louisiana and Mississippi regarding the Dixie Mafia, and it is clear that there underground connections between criminal groups that rely on other like-minded to advise and assist. One of the characters is Larry Thompson of Shreveport, Louisiana, who was hired by a insurance agent in Tom River, NJ to kill his wife in efforts to collect on a million dollar life insurance policy. The interworking of those who with to engage a Mob to do their dirty work is usually only one or two phone calls away.
Philip Fairbanks: What can ordinary people do to combat corruption in the system?
Myron Fuller: As we see every day on the news, people tend to believe what they see and hear when it satisfies their need, comfort and often political beliefs. Given the decades of fraud, betrayal of truths, law enforcement answers to questions on crime, public service channels on crimes against people, banks and governments, I do not know of a panacea, because the smart crooks come up with new angles to fit the connections between the desperate and the desperado. The phrase, “a sucker is born every minute” seems to remain true. I am not totally cynical on this matter, and I do think that most frauds could be prevented by being patient, taking the time to look vertically and horizontally and then bounce it off others, attorneys, accountants, etc, before failing to blink and taking the bait. If people would remember that fraud is usually successful if the salesperson is likable.