Jordan Belfort, co-founder of the biggest and most notorious "boiler-room" in recent history, hasn't lost his Midas touch. The film rights to his newly-released autobiography, The Wolf of Wall Street, have already been snapped up by Martin Scorcese who is to direct Leonardo DiCaprio in the lead role. It's quite a coup for a debutant author and an ex-con at that, says The Sunday Times. But is Belfort happy? Apparently not; he claims to be racked with guilt over the victims of his crimes. "Not a day goes by without me feeling appalled about what happened." More to the point, he's in a financial bind. The US government will take 50% of his income until he pays back $110m to investors. So far, he has made about $600,000 in advances and film rights. "That still leaves a lot of books to sell."
The confessional Wall Street memoir has become a tired medium, says The New York Times. But Belfort's "unvarnished and often hilarious revelations" are compelling. Much focuses on his attempts to live the high life: how he crashed his helicopter on the lawn of his New York estate, too stoned to find the airport; or how he ship-wrecked his yacht (originally built for Coco Chanel) in the Med. The book owes a good deal to Tom Wolfe's Bonfire of the Vanities: Belfort, who taught himself to write in prison, claims to have used the novel like a text-book and "can quote long passages with the authority and relish of a poet citing Shakespeare". But it's also a historical document, shedding light on the inner workings of a boiler-room operation. Belfort chronicles how he and his Quaalude-befuddled cronies foisted dodgy stocks on small investors, then cashed out before the shares crashed. In the early 1990s, before the onset of computerised trading, men like Belfort were the era's bandits. The motto of his brokerage, Stratton Oakmont, said it all: "No one hangs up the phone until the customer buys or dies."
At the height of their notoriety as the "princes of pump and dump'", it was the "choir boy" looks of Belfort and his partner, Daniel Porush, which shocked the most, says Newsday. The son of two accountants, Belfort dropped out of dentistry school to start his own meat trade business. He expanded too quickly, declared personal bankruptcy and, in 1987, began working at a series of brokerages that sold small stocks. His meeting with Porush was bizarre: they both rushed to help a child who had fallen off a slide at a local playground and got talking. Porush was seduced by the huge sums Belfort was making, and together they formed Stratton Oakmont in 1989, deciding, almost immediately, that "nothing worked like fraud".
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For several years, the sophisticated scams worked like a charm. The duo cheated thousands out of some $250m and made a mockery of the regulators who tried to stop them. The SEC first charged them with abusive sales practices in 1992; Belfort fought the case all the way and the brokerage only ceased trading in 1996. Two years later, he pleaded guilty to money-laundering and securities fraud, eventually serving just 22 months in prison in return for testifying against some two dozen former associates. Is his contrition real or feigned? Belfort, who describes himself as "a moral man", says he is living proof that a leopard can change his spots. Others aren't so sure. As his former lawyer told The New York Times: "People always have epiphanies after they are caught."
Jordan Belfort's classic Hollywood makeover
Tanned and compact, Belfort, 45, shows few flashes of the audacity that gave him a net worth of $100m in his mid-20s, nor of the druggy binges that led him to cheerlead the practice of tossing midgets (literally) around his office. Now living a chaste life in LA, he writes nine hours a day, spending any free time with his children. "His shoes are stacked" and his skin suspiciously taut, reports The Sunday Times. It's a classic Hollywood makeover, right down to his moral rebirth. But those who lost their life savings at his hands are unlikely to be swayed.
Belfort's pump-and-dump speciality, says Newsday, was fraudulent initial public offerings. He would gain control of a supply of stock, artificially boost demand and run up the price by having hundreds of salespeople call investors nationwide with false promises (the pump); and then sell out (the dump), leaving the public holding nearly worthless shares. He ran a system of Flippers, Ratholes and Big Shots insiders who facilitated the scam. The most famous Flipper (a friendly dolphin who led unsuspecting fishes into Stratton's school of sharks) was shoe designer Steve Madden; Ratholes were accomplices further down the pecking order; Big Shots (aka preferred clients) were typically golf pros, restaurateurs and anyone else who merited special favour. Belfort boasted that "instead of trying to muscle in on his operation, the Mob sent people to him to be trained". The impact of his scam continued long after it ended: many of the "thousands of kids" he admits to "corrupting" formed boiler-houses of their own. "I launched a cottage industry of securities fraud."
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