With the recent release of the Martin Scorsese film, The Wolf of Wall Street, MSN takes a look at the real story behind the film. Are the excesses depicted in the film – both of partying and criminal behaviour - true to life? And has the man at the centre of it all really reformed?
Born to two accountants, the real Wolf of Wall Street, Jordan Belfort, says he “exited the womb an entrepreneur”. It’s hard to argue, with his first foray into business at just sixteen where he sold knick-knacks on Long Island beach, using the money to go to college as a dentist.
However, it was here that the wolf showed his real teeth, quitting the course on the first day after being told that he was in the wrong place if he wanted to make money. He immediately started his own business selling meat, but it was bust by the time he was 24, owing $24,000, and so he found a job in Wall Street as a broker at LF Rothschild.
From here it didn’t take Belfort too long to set up his infamous over-the-counter brokerage firm Stratton Oakmont. Stratton Oakmont was essentially a boiler room – and indeed is said to inspire the 1995 film of the same name – where brokers called random people and persuaded them to invest in the company’s own IPOs.
The more investment made in an IPO the higher its share price would rise, until Belfort and his associates sold their own holdings in the companies. The share value would collapse and leave the investor with worthless shares. Investor losses were estimated at approximately $200m as Belfort took home an approximately $600,000 a week to contribute to his £60m value.
Often films need to exaggerate the glamour of a lifestyle to hold their viewers’ attention. Not so in The Wolf of Wall Street, with the yacht, the helicopter, the drug addiction and the dwarf throwing competition all true.
Today Belfort charges $5,000 a day as a motivational speaker, with clients including Virgin Airlines. He considers himself a reformed character, telling the Independent: “We are not the mistakes of our past. We're the resources and capabilities that we glean from our past. It chokes me up a little when I think about it. I was a bad guy. And it wasn't like I started that way. You can get desensitised to your own actions, it's easy on Wall Street... I shouldn't really care what people think of me. I know I'm good. But of course I do care.”
Whether Belfort considers himself a “good” or “bad” guy really misses the point, and betrays the underlying narcissism of an individual trying to appear to have paid his debts. In December he posted on Facebook:
“For the record, I am not turning over 50% of the profits of the books and the movie, which was what the government had wanted me to do. Instead, I insisted on turning over 100% of the profits of both books and the movie, which is to say, I am not making a single dime on any of this. This should amount to countless millions of dollars and hopefully be more than enough to pay back anyone who is still out there.”
A statement released for the US Attorney in Brooklyn, reported by the New York Times, replied: "Belfort's Facebook comments are substantially inaccurate. The government has seen nothing to suggest that even 100 per cent of Belfort's profits from his book and the movie Wolf of Wall Street would yield, in his words, 'countless millions', much less the approximately $100 million that is still owed to the victims."
And how is Belfort not still in prison for crimes that would normally carry a twenty to thirty year sentence? He cut a deal, of course.
In exchange for providing evidence against his employees Belfort managed to negotiate down to a four year sentence (of which he served twenty-two months) as well as paying 50% of all future earnings to a fund set up to his victims up to a total of $110m.
Last October federal prosecutors filed a complaint that Belfort had received over $1.7m in the previous four years from his speaking and the sale of his book and film rights, yet had paid only $243,000 in that time.
It seems that while the wolf’s wealth may have largely gone, his claws remain just as sharp.