Is American Hustle’s Victor Tellegio Based on a Real Mob Boss?

Directed by David O. Russell, ‘American Hustle’ is a 2013 crime comedy movie that revolves around two con artists, Irving and Sydney, and one very intense FBI Agent, Richie DiMaso. After catching the pair in a scam, he manipulates them into working for him. Together the three embark on a drama-filled, outlandish investigation against fraudulent criminals and corrupt public officials. The investigation, dubbed “The Abscam Operation,” somehow leads them down a dangerous rabbit hole once the deadly crime mob gets involved.

‘American Hustle’ has an impressive ensemble cast of actors like Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawerence, and more. Still, one face in particular that catches the eye is that of Robert De Niro. He plays the role of Tellegio, the Mafia boss and right-hand man of Meyer Lansky. Though De Niro only has a cameo in the movie, his character has a formidable impact on the story. Now, because of the movie’s roots in reality, you might be wondering if there is any correlation between Tellegio and any real-life personality. If so, here is everything we know about the inspiration behind the character. SPOILERS AHEAD!

Is Victor Tellegio a Real Mob Boss?

In the movie, Carmine (Jeremy Renner) invites the Sheikh and his associates to a party in Atlantic City to show them the business they will invest in. They come across a couple of guys from the Mob at the casino. The Mob already has ties to casinos and is involved with Carmine to reconstruct Atlantic City. He urges Irving to talk to the mobsters as a show of courtesy, considering they will be in business together. However, knowing it is just a scam, the latter is reluctant to do so. On the other hand, Richie sees the involvement of the Mob as an excellent opportunity to unveil further corruption.

Eventually, this meeting leads to a sit down with the Mafia boss, Victor Tellegio. As the story progresses, Tellegio’s involvement is the final push that drives Irving to figure out a way out of his deal with the FBI. After Irving’s wife lets it slip to her mobster boyfriend, Pete, that Irving may be working for a government organization, Irving’s life is threatened by the mob. Once Irving gets out of the FBI bind, the Abscam Operation is shut down without the prosecution or arrest of Tellegio or anyone else from the mob.

While there is no real-life mafia boss named Tellegio, it is safe to assume his character is based on the American mobster Vincent Alo. He was New York Mobster who, similar to Tellegio from ‘American Hustle,’ was a close associate of Meyer Lanksy. According to Alo’s niece Carole Cortland Russo, he first met Lansky in 1929, and the two swiftly became close friends. Nevertheless, the character and Alo’s similarities start and stop at their position as Lansky’s right-hand man. Unlike Tellegio, who is in cahoots with Carmine and involved with Richie’s and Irving’s Sheikh to some extent, Vincent Alo had no involvement in the Abscam Scandal.

In fact, the Abscam Scandal— both in reality and fiction— takes place in the late 70s. Unlike, Tellegio, Alo had already retired by then. Ultimately, though some inspiration may have been taken from Vincent Alo while developing Tellegio’s character, there is no real-life connection between the two. In a way, the presence of such a mob leader in the movie is an excellent indicator that, though it takes inspiration from actual events, it is also a broad dramatization of those events. In the end, many of the characters and incidents in ‘American Hustle’ are thought up by the writers— Eric Warren Singer and David O. Russell— to move the plot forward. In the same vein, Tellegio’s involvement as a mafia boss in the Abscam Scandal is one such instance.

Read More: Is American Hustle Based on a True Story?