In September of 1978, the FBI started an undercover sting operation designed to entrap members of Congress into taking bribes from a shady Arab sheik known as Abdul. Internally, the operation was referred to as the "Abdul scam", which was eventually shortened to "Abscam". Federal agents rented various beltway properties to host and secretly record meetings with Congressmen until early 1980.

Lee Lescaze, a newspaper reporter for the Washington Post, initially believed that he was renting his six-bedroom house to an unmarried young executive of a Virginia construction company, so he didn't suspect anything when the tenant offered to spend a lot of time and money on major renovations. It also helped that Lescaze was on long-term assignment in New York and could only make infrequent visits to check up on the house. The tenant's eager interior remodeling projects were a cover for the substantial work needed to install countless hidden cameras and microphones, along with all the extra phone lines needed for what would ultimately be a satellite FBI office.

With a totally wired house, unsuspecting neighbors, and an absentee landlord, the FBI was ready to trawl for politicians on the take. Agents dressed up in robes and turbans to play the parts of Sheik Adbul and his entourage, and approached several public officials for a variety of favors, including political asylum and assistance in laundering money. Many politicians were also invited by the sheik and his men into dubious investment schemes. Naturally, quite a few officials took the bait - on tape - in the house the FBI rented from Lescaze. One of the most famous Abscam bribes caught on tape showed Rep. Richard Kelly (R-FL) stuffing a US$25,000 wad of cash into his pocket on January 8, 1980 and asking the undercover agents "does it show?" Rep. Michael "Ozzy" Meyers, (D-PA) succumbed and became the first Congressman to be expelled from office in the 20th century, as well as serving almost two years in federal prison.

Although many politicians fell victim to the sting, not all of the charges stuck, mostly due to judicial concerns over entrapment. The FBI succeeded in showing Americans the true colors of their elected officials, but no one seemed to appreciate it as much as the agency had anticipated.

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