Based on a 2015 New York Magazine piece by Jessica Pressler titled “The Hustlers at Scores,” Hustlers is about a group of strippers who work the scene to, in plain terms, steal from the rich and give to the poor (aka themselves). Starring Jennifer Lopez, Constance Wu, Kiki Palmer, Cardi B, Lizzo, Lili Reinhart, and Julia Stiles, the film reimagines the true life tale of Roselyn Keo (Wu's Destiny is a proxy for Keo) and Samantha Barbash (Lopez's Ramona is inspired by Barbash), and the money these hustlers reportedly swindled from Wall Street men over the course of a few years following the 2008 recession. So how did this whole hustling operation work? Allow us to elaborate.
The Hustlers' Crime
The reported ploy was simple: target men (oftentimes assholes, according to the NYMag piece) who had money to burn via Barbash’s extensive client list, lure them to a strip club where they would be served drinks laced with a mixture of MDMA and Ketamine, and then take and charge their credit cards for thousands of dollars worth of lap dances and liquor. (The combination of the two drugs would keep the men both happy and forgetful, a headspace that served the strippers well.)
How The Hustlers Got Away With It
Afterwards, the men would find the outrageous charges on their bank statements, but would be hesitant to press charges, given that, as one police officer said in the NYMag piece, “Men don’t want to admit to being victimised by women.” The added humiliation of telling their partners about their bad behaviour also kept most men from coming forward.
“And says what?” Lopez's Ramona says with a laugh. “‘I spent $5,000 at a strip club, send help?’”
The women, meanwhile, would feign drinking and doing drugs, but stay as sober as possible to pull off the ploy. Their reward? An easy 30, 40, or even 50 grand a night per customer, from which the crew would reap a significantly large cut.
Why Did The Hustlers Start Stealing?
In the NYMag piece, Keo justified the group’s actions by pointing out that the men they went after tended to be supremely wealthy, while many of the women in on the con were not. Keo, for example, was a single mother raising her young daughter and supporting her grandmother. In the film, Ramona reasons that these men were the ones who caused the financial crisis in the first place. The titular Hustlers were like Robin Hoods, in their minds.
“What’s an extra $20,000 to them?” Keo asked. “It wasn’t like we pulled them off the street. They had history. They’d been to Hustler, they’d been to Rick’s, they’d been to Scores. They all walked in ready to party. And yeah, we slipped an extra one that they didn’t know about. But all of it goes hand in hand — sex, drugs, and rock and roll. You know?”
How The Hustlers Got Caught
Essentially, according to the film and the NY Mag exposé, they got sloppy.
When the group had to branch out beyond their original client list, they ended with some wildcards, namely "Doug [Bleep]" in the movie or "we'll call him Fred" in the article. This man wasn't as wealthy as the others the group had dealt with, so when he lost his mortgage payment to their con, he decided to get actual proof of the wrongdoing and got one of the group's cohorts to admit to scamming him while he was secretly taping them on a call. Once he was able to provide that evidence, it was only a matter of time before detectives cracked the whole thing wide open.