Political Bribery and Abscam Operation


The misuse of public authority for individual gain remains a major problem in most parts of the world if not all over the place. Throughout history, the United States has witnessed countless related cases involving individuals who misused property and authority for selfish interests. Several government officials have continuously violated the interest of the public by breaching the interests of the public. This behavior can be described as corruption, which principally occurs when leaders or government officials deviate from outlined formal duties for the aim of advancing personal gains. Extreme cases of this nature can negatively affect a country’s economic growth if strategies are not erected to curb and deal with the vice.

Of importance is the relationship between corruption and politics. Many politicians selfishly exercise their political authority by propagating projects which mainly lead to their personal gains. One of the most fascinating and incredible stories of political bribery in the American history involved the Abscam Operation, a case which highlighted the corrupt nature of politicians and their willingness to perform crime in secrecy (Theoharis 84). This paper gives an analysis of the case, featuring informative segments like fraud elements, key public figures, legal outcome and personal opinion among others.

Abscam Operation

Sometimes referred to as ABSCAM, the operation is one of the most outstanding investigations done by the Federal Bureau of Investigation with regard to corruption and abuse of public office in the United States. Carried out during late 70s and early 80s, the operation was run from FBI’s office in Hauppauge in Long Island. Although the operation originally targeted trafficking of stolen wealth and property, it was later diverted to investigating corruption within public offices. Like no other operation, the investigation resulted into the conviction of several senior leaders in the country who included a United States Senator, House of Representative members, another member from the New Jersey State Senate, Philadelphia City Council members and an official for Immigration and Naturalization Service of America (Theoharis 84).

Abscam Operation Summary

For the operation to be that successful, the Federal Bureau of Investigation established the Abdul Enterprises Limited in the year 1978. After this strategic set-up of the company, its officials masqueraded to be serious businessmen from Middle East engaged in negotiations with government officials in a recorded videotape. In the conversation, government officials agreed to give out some money to a “ghost” Sheikh in order to receive political favors as a reward (Verrone 351). Several houses and hotels in Washington D.C, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Florida were used to set up a series of meetings which were held between the officials and an unknown Kambir Abdul Rahman, the Sheikh.

As part of the deal, the sheikh had three main agenda which he wanted to accomplish by the end of the business engagement with the officials. These included the acquisition of asylum in the United States, engaging the officials in unspecified investment plan and special assistance that would help him transfer his wealth from his home country (Socyberty 1). A significant portion of the operation was mainly directed by Melvin Weinberg who was a criminal con artist and specifically hired by the Federal Bureau of Investigation to act as the chief director of the operation. Notably, Abscam Operation was the first investigation by the famous FBI team to trap public officials involved in corruption and massive abuse of office for public gain. According to American criminal records, only ten Congress members had ever been found guilty of bribery up until 1970. Abscam Operation news were first aired by NBC Nightly News on the second day of February, 1980, in which FBI was mentioned to target Congress members in what was viewed as a “sting” operation (Socyberty 1). The operation was codenamed, “Abscam”, the short form of Abdul Scam emanating from the company name.

Prominent public figures

Out of the thirty one government officials that were targeted, several were caught in the scandal. The first one was Harrison A. Williams, a Senator and five House of Representatives members who were convicted of corruption and conspiracy in 1981 when they were put on different trials in court (Socyberty 1). The operation further led to the resignation of numerous political leaders while others like Myers faced the wrath of expulsion. To the surprise of many, the scandal did not bother Williams to resign, and he stayed put until an expulsion vote against him almost matured. A part from these, five more government officials were found guilty of similar charges as mentioned above.

Pete Williams

Williams was indicted in October 1980 before being convicted on several counts of conspiracy, bribery and misuse of public office to advance his interests. He had met FBI officials on several occasions as he organized a master plan in which he was to partner in a titanium mining group in which 18% of the company’s shares were to be awarded to his personal lawyer (Verrone 351). He further pledged to use his position as a Senator to push for government contracts for his personal benefit. During the trial, Williams was defended by his lawyers who argued that their client was not bribed, based on the fact that the titanium company had no value. Others who defended Williams argued that it was selective justice that targeted him because of his political stance by supporting Ted Kennedy during presidential elections.

The premises were, however, not accepted after twenty eight hours of hearing on May 1, 1981. Senator Williams received a three years sentence for the crimes after which the Senate Ethics Committee unanimously agreed to censure and expel the Senator for his repulsive conduct and dishonor to the house of Congress. In his resignation letter, Williams noted that the investigation was a mere assault on the right of the Senate (Verrone 356). He served two years of the jail term in Newark, New Jersey while the remaining year was spent at the Integrity House, where he later served on the board of directors until November 2001 when he succumbed to cancer. His presidential pardon was ignored during President Clinton’s reign.

Frank Thompson

While serving as a congressman, Frank Thompson was indicted for receiving a bribe from Federal Bureau of Investigation agent, pretending to be a Sheikh from Arab. He was loved by his constituents and the longest serving congressman among those implicated in the Abscam operation. He was caught on camera receiving $50,000 as a bribe and pledged to push for the recruitment of more congressmen and was indicted on charges of corruption. Thompson spent close to $24,000 fighting the charges and appealing against the ruling (Verrone 358). It was further affirmed that his decision to use campaign money in court was unethical and was added among his final charges. Like Williams, Thompson was convicted for corruption and conspiracy and jailed for three years. After serving two years of his term, he worked as a consultant in Washington until the time he died in 1989.

John Murtha

Murtha’s involvement in the scandal was termed as a co-conspirator and was neither indicted nor prosecuted. From the video clip recorded during the operation, Murtha rejected an offer of $50,000 arguing that he was not interested in taking the offer (Verrone 359). His involvement was considered as a way of helping his district and not a personal gain. Due to the support he commanded, the House of Ethics Committee did not charge him. As a result, he remained an active congressman, having served for twenty-six years as a congressman, translating into thirteen terms of election. On the other hand, Richard Kelly was convicted for thirteen months in prison while Larry Pressler rejected the bribe that was offered to him, terming it as illegal (Socyberty 1).

Conclusion personal opinion

Although it was the first successful operation by FBI to uncover corruption and misuse of public office, Abscam investigation was later criticized after becoming public together with the involvement of Weinberg who evaded conviction and instead received $150,000 pay, linked to the sting operation (Theoharis 83). Criticism was mainly based on the manner in which the operation was executed as it utilized entrapment approach to catch government officials. This led to the release of guidelines for undercover operations by the Attorney General. Even though it helped to uncover corruption among politicians and government officials, Abscam operation could create a risk to personal property, civil liberties, privacy and ineffective enforcement of the law. The operation may also have been used as revenge on Congress by FBI officials who had been probed earlier for police brutality. Regardless of the stance, it is important to emphasize integrity and political morality in leadership.

Works Cited

Socyberty. “Abscam Operation.” Socyberty, 2008. Web.

Theoharis, Athan. The FBI: a comprehensive reference guide. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Publishing Group, 1999. Print.

Verrone, Patric. “The Abscam Investigation: Use and Abuse of Entrapment and Due Process Defenses.” Boston College Law Review 25.2 (1984): 351-381. Print.

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