Jordan Belfort is the real life Wolf of Wall Street, the latest Hollywood blockbuster movie where Leonardo DiCaprio gives us an inside glimpse into the life of a stock broker who amassed a large fortune by duping thousands of clients to invest their life savings in sinking stocks.
The currently popular movie is based on the memoir that Belfort put together while serving time in prison. Belfort was indicted in 1998 for securities fraud and money laundering and served 22 months in federal prison for his crimes.
How did one man gain the trust of so many investors and swindle $110.4 million in such a short time?
Belfort’s memoir goes into great detail, explaining a system that seems almost destined to be turned into a Hollywood movie.
Always the entrepreneur, Belfort started his first business as a teenager, selling Italian ice during the summer, where he had his first taste of success – amassing $20,000 profit in only three months.
In the years that followed, he tried his hand at several other businesses – all of which failed. He took a job as a “connector” at L.F. Rothschild, a merchant and investment banking firm that was later a casualty of the 1987 stock market crash.
A connector is responsible for connecting with new clients and focusing on the quality of relationships with clients and customers – ensuring repeat business and gaining valuable referrals.
Dissatisfied by the pay differential he was receiving in comparison to the stock brokers he worked alongside, Belfort left and found work at several different firms over the next few years – all the while, honing his sales pitch skills and learning how to gain the trust of his clients.
He formed his first company in the early 90s, a brokerage firm known as Stratton Oakmont. The company grew quickly, due to word of high success rates and the huge cash-earning potential of being employed there.
The 2000 movie, Boiler Room, is loosely based on the story of the Stratton Oakmont firm and life of Jordan Belfort.
Over 1,000 stock brokers were employed at Stratton Oakmont – many of whom were out of work brokers, best friends and relatives – all poor and desperate to live the life of the wealthy. The goal of every broker was to “pump and dump” – a fraudulent practice of encouraging investors to buy shares in a company in order to inflate the price artificially, and then selling one’s own shares while the price is high.
Eager clients would cash out their children’s education funds, put a second mortgage on their homes and cash in their 401K to afford the opportunity that Stratton Oakmont promised as a “once in a lifetime” – a sure way to get rich. The firm retained 1,513 clients – many of whom lost their life savings or had to give up their small businesses as a result of investments placed with Stratton Oakmont.
As depicted in the recent movie, Belfort and his employees lived lavish lifestyles, engaged in unruly office behavior such as snorting cocaine while at work, and wasted money on frivolous purchases. Belfort developed an addiction to Quaaludes and a party-lifestyle that was becoming more and more out of control. His memoir details experiences such as crashing a helicopter and sinking a yacht. He also reports kicking his wife down a flight of stairs and trying to kidnap his own children while under the influence of drugs.
As Belfort became wary of allegations now being made against him, he began collecting money in off-shore accounts and smuggling cash to Switzerland. The FBI began their investigation along with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and in 1994, Belfort was banned from the securities industry. He would later learn that several of his accomplices were undercover agents for the FBI.
With over $200 million in investment losses, Belfort was ordered to serve four years in prison and pay back $110.4 million. The sentence was reduced to under two years for his cooperation in ratting his colleagues out – wearing a wire while setting them up in working with the FBI.
While in prison, Belfort was cell-mate to Tommy Chong of the popular Cheech and Chong fame. It was Chong that encouraged Belfort to turn his story into a memoir.
Having served his time, Belfort was released from prison in April, 2006. So far, he has repaid only $21,000 of the $110.4 million he was ordered to repay his victims for restitution. The court has also mandated that 50% of all future earnings go to his victims.
Today, Jordan Belfort is a highly sought-after motivational speaker and he’s seeing great success with his new company, Straight Line, which focuses on sales psychology.
Belfort claims to be making no money off the recent film, The Wolf of Wall Street.
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.
Prosecutors argue that Belfort is lying and is instead, living off book royalties and film right money. Furthermore, they contend that his new career is only possible because of the crimes he was convicted for. While the prosecution fights for the money that Belfort still owes, they further note that Belfort is now living in Australia and using the country as yet another loophole to keep him from repaying American citizens.
As Belfort continues to be immortalized by Hollywood, he is certain to increase the worth of his new empire and like it or not, he’s making a case that crime does pay.