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Dwarf-tossing, hookers, drugs and a $200m scam

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 Leonardo DiCaprio as the Wolf at one of the movie's infamous parties.

Leonardo DiCaprio as the Wolf at one of the movie's infamous parties.

Leonardo DiCaprio as the Wolf at one of the movie's infamous parties.

THE pitch could have been barked by any of the "motivational-training" snake-oil salesmen who ply their wares in the corporate sector.

But the man behind this particular "sales and persuasion" one-day course in Australia last year thought himself special enough to demand a US$5,000 (€3,700) entrance fee.

The inflated price tag may have been something to do with the quality of the after-dinner anecdotes, as the man hosting the event was Jordan Belfort – a 51-year-old American ex-con who is among the most infamous crooked businessmen in recent history.

In the 1990s, Belfort was reputed to have been worth £60m (€72.5)m, earning £600,000 €725,000) a week. He owned a sprawling estate in the Hamptons, a fleet of supercars and a 167ft yacht which he sank in the Mediterranean.

He had a supermodel wife and a drug and alcohol habit. He employed an army of young salespeople who aggressively sold stocks in questionable companies to unwitting investors.

His workers were rewarded with massive bonuses and parties where prostitutes and dwarf-throwing competitions were provided as entertainment.

 

DISGRACED

Today, the disgraced swindler (a term Belfort hates) has reinvented himself as a reputable businessman, with clients such as Delta and Virgin Airlines. Much to his delight, he's also being played by Leonardo DiCaprio in Martin Scorsese's new film 'The Wolf of Wall Street' which portrays the lavish, drug-fuelled and illegal antics at Belfort's now-defunct East Coast stocks and shares brokerage Stratton Oakmont.

But, says Belfort, he's not letting all that glitz go to his head – he is a new man since his 2004 conviction for defrauding clients of more than $200m (€147m).

"We are not the mistakes of our past," he recently said. "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."

Former Assistant US Attorney Joel Cohen, who helped put Belfort behind bars, couldn't agree less. "If he is trying to create the impression that he is basically an honest guy who stepped over the line a bit, that is dead wrong.

"This is a guy who woke up every day, seven days a week for many years, and said, 'What crimes can I commit today?' He was looking to rip people off on a daily basis."

The yacht, the cars, the supermodel wife and the fortune have all gone. The father-of-three now lives in a modest three-bedroom house in a relatively inexpensive LA suburb.

 

SEMINARS

At his seminars, attendees are taught a technique he calls "Straight Line" selling; a set of pre-determined steps from first contact to closing a deal. It is, he has said, roughly the same system he taught his employees to use when pressuring people to buy shares in the useless firms he once promoted. He's paid around $30,000 (€22,000) an hour for his wisdom.

He makes a very good living, then – but his income is a fraction of the vast wealth he enjoyed, and a court order requires him to pay 50pc of his earnings into a compensation fund for his thousands of victims. Nevertheless, the sale of the film rights to Belfort's two memoirs,

The 'The Wolf of Wall Street' and 'Catching the Wolf of Wall Street', are estimated to have earned him $2m (€14.7m). The film is up for a Golden Globe (Best Comedy) and there is talk of several Oscar nominations when they are announced.

FBI Special Agent Greg Coleman began investigating Belfort in 1992. "I have run into individuals who were bad people doing bad things and I've run into ones who were basically good people who made a mistake and will never do it again," says Coleman. "Belfort was really bad." He spent the following years gradually digging away to collect evidence – but the loyalty Belfort engendered in his well-paid staff made it an almost impossible task.

The breakthrough came when Belfort became desperate and began smuggling money out of the country.

 

LAUNDERED

The funds ended up in Swiss bank accounts, where it was laundered – and money-laundering was Coleman's area of expertise.

With concrete evidence, Belfort was arrested in September 1998 and persuaded to work with the investigation. Belfort was required to post $10m (€7.4m) security as a condition of his bail. (The security took the form of jewels which he had delivered to the courthouse in an armoured car accompanied by armed guards.)

The skills that made Belfort such a good conman also made him an effective government mole: the evidence he collected was used in scores of other prosecutions.

Belfort eventually pleaded guilty. The case took years to come to trial and in 2004 he was convicted, sentenced to four years, and jailed, serving 22 months in all.

Wolf still has a long way to go before he pays his debt to society.

'The Wolf of Wall Street' (18) is released on Friday


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