The Hustlers true story is even stranger than the movie itself. The movie was largely based on facts – or, at least, based on the story that one of the women involved in the scam sometimes said was the truth.
Roselyn Keo, who ran the business end of the scheme to target wealthy clients, told her story to Jessica Pressler for an article published in New York Magazine in 2015 called “The Hustlers at Scores,” which largely served as the basis for the film.
Keo later told a fact-checker she made up the story, then backtracked when the journalist said her story was widely corroborated.
“I am saving myself,” she told Pressler. “I am out for myself.”
Keo’s character is named “Destiny” in the film after the character changed her name from Dorothy. She is played by Constance Wu. Keo met up with Samantha Barbash at Larry Flynt’s Hustler Club. At that time, Barbash, who went by the name Samantha Foxx, was already running the scam. Keo and Barbash had two things in common at the time: They were single mothers, and they had a list of clients on “Get Money” lists.
Pressler interviewed both Barbash and Keo for the article, but the article was largely based on her long-running conversations with Keo. They seemed to develop a camaraderie over the course of the interviews, which concluded as the women were awaiting the conclusions of their court cases. In the movie, Destiny and Ramona tell their story to a journalist named Elizabeth, played by Julia Stiles. Barbash’s character is named Ramona Vega in the film, played by Jennifer Lopez.
Karina Pascucci and Marsi Rosen were exotic dancers Barbash recruited to her crew. The women would target wealthy men, often among the Wall Street elite, drug them with a “sprinkle” of MDMA and ketamine, and wrack up huge bills on their credit cards. The ridicule the men would face, from either their wives or the general public, typically kept them quiet.
The Hustlers story arch largely followed the account Keo gave Pressler, with some changes.
Here’s what you need to know:
Keo & Barbash Have Backstories That Largely Match the Film
Barbash and Keo, who goes by Rosie, were both single moms with “get money” lists of clients they could hustle when they met at Larry Flynt’s Hustler Club, Keo told Pressler. Keo had a baby, and Barbash had a young son.
The movie depicts Destiny working as a stripper to supplement her grandmother’s income. In the movie, her grandmother raised her.
Keo’s story is a bit more tragic. She was raised by her grandparents after her parents abandoned her, but her grandmother died when Keo was 16, leaving her on her own.
“I had no cushion,” she told Vulture. “My mom wasn’t able to help me. Who knows what kind of person I would’ve been if she was there to back me up. Would I have worked so hard, would I have hustled so hard, the way I did, knowing I had something to fall back on?”
She was born to Cambodian refugees. Keo told Pressler they came to America for a better life and “got caught up with the, you know, material crap, and the nice cars, and the nightlife. And just somewhere, they went wrong.”
Her parents left Keo and her brother with her elderly grandparents and left for Atlantic City. She dropped out of school at 17 and got a job at a diner where a customer offered her a job at a strip club.
Barbash was a single mom when she started hustling. Her motivation in the movie was described in the same way as Barbash described it: She wanted to provide for her son.
“Robbing bankers because they robbed Wall Street or whatever – that never crossed my mind,” she told the Sun. “What crossed my mind is I’m a single mom and I need to support my son.
The Crew’s Downfall Started With Barbash Picking Up ‘Strays,’ One of Whom Confessed on a Recorded Call
The downfall of the scheme is portrayed much in the same way as it is portrayed in the movie. Pascucci and Rosen disappeared from the group, and Barbash started making new additions. Keo took issue with the new recruits, saying they were not trustworthy.
“If we’re a team and we’re making money and winning games, are you going to start trading players and bringing in new people?” Keo argued with Barbash, according to New York Magazine.
She said they were becoming frustrated, greedy and careless. They started maxing out credit cards just because they thought they could. One of the women in the crew told a man in a recorded call he had been scammed. Dr. Zyad Younan, a New Jersey cardiologist, told the New York Post he was drugged, and refused to pay a $135,000 strip club bill. The evidence and the testimony led to the four women being charged.
The movie scene that showed a man jumping from his deck to a pool and missed, leading Destiny to drive him naked to the hospital, is somewhat based on truth, although it was not likely so dramatic in real life. Keo told Pressler one of the clients, a hedge-fund manager, was so intoxicated that he bumped his head in his pool and suffered a concussion.
The Victims of Keo & Barbash Included the Father of an Autistic Child Who Lost His House
Portrayals of the victims on Hustlers were also based on fact. In the movie, Younan was an architect instead of a cardiologist. The father of an autistic boy, who was not named in Pressler’s article, lost his home in a hurricane, not a fire.
He faced long-lasting loss that was more than financial. One of the credit cards the women maxed out was corporate, and he was fired from his job. After he started a new job, he learned his name was reported to a company that tracks white collar crime, and he was fired again. He eventually landed a new job, but said he was terrified of being found out.
“I wake up in the morning thinking about it,” he told Pressler. “Every day, once or twice a day, I feel the barrel of the gun against my head.”
The night Keo met him, she felt a pang of guilt.
“‘We cleaned him out completely,’ said Rosie. ‘He pleaded, ‘Can you guys please credit back my debit card? My mortgage payment is on there.’ Rosie told me this was the first time in a long time she’d felt a pang about what they’d done. ‘But Samantha’s like, ‘You can’t feel bad!’’ she said. ‘If we don’t do it, someone else is going to do it!’
Rosie paused. ‘I can tell you exactly how much it was,’ she said. Seventeen thousand dollars. ‘Five thousand on his Chase debit card, and then he had an airlines card. It wasn’t much. But to him it was a lot.'”