Jordan Ross Belfort (born July 9, 1962) is an American author, motivational speaker, and former stockbroker. In 1999, he pleaded guilty to fraud and related crimes in connection with stock-market manipulation and running a boiler room as part of a penny-stock scam. Belfort spent 22 months in prison as part of an agreement under which he gave testimony against numerous partners and subordinates in his fraud scheme. He published a memoir, The Wolf of Wall Street, which was adapted into a film, released in 2013. The film, directed by Martin Scorsese, starred Leonardo DiCaprio as Belfort.
Belfort was born in 1962 in the Bronx borough of New York City to a Jewish family. His parents, Leah and Max Belfort, are both accountants. He was raised in Bayside, Queens. Between completing high school and starting college, Belfort and his close childhood friend Elliot Loewenstern earned $20,000 selling Italian ice from styrofoam coolers to people at a local beach. Belfort went on to graduate from American University with a degree in biology. Belfort planned on using the money earned with Loewenstern to pay for dental school, and he enrolled at the University of Maryland School of Dentistry, the oldest dental school in the United States; however, he left after the dean of the school said to him on his first day at the college: “The golden age of dentistry is over. If you’re here simply because you’re looking to make a lot of money, you’re in the wrong place.”
Stock trading career
– Early ventures
After graduating, Belfort became a door-to-door meat and seafood salesman on Long Island, New York. He claims in interviews and his memoirs that the business was an initial success; he grew his meat-selling business to employ several workers and sold 5,000 pounds (2,300 kilograms) of beef and fish a week. However, the business ultimately failed, as he filed for bankruptcy at 25. According to his memoirs and interviews, a family friend helped him find a job as a trainee stockbroker at L.F. Rothschild. Belfort says he was laid off after that firm experienced financial difficulties related to the Black Monday stock market crash of 1987.
– Stratton Oakmont
Belfort originally founded Stratton Oakmont as a franchise of Stratton Securities, then later bought out the original founder. Stratton Oakmont functioned as a boiler room that marketed penny stocks and defrauded investors with the “pump and dump” type of stock sales. During his years at Stratton, Belfort developed a lifestyle that consisted of lavish parties and intensive use of recreational drugs, especially methaqualone—sold to him under the brand name “Quaalude”—that resulted in an addiction. Stratton Oakmont at one point employed over 1,000 stock brokers and was involved in stock issues totaling more than US$1 billion, including being behind the initial public offering for footwear company Steve Madden Ltd. The notoriety of the firm, targeted by law enforcement officials through virtually its entire history, inspired the film Boiler Room (2000), as well as the 2013 biopic The Wolf of Wall Street.
The National Association of Securities Dealers (now the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority) began pursuing disciplinary actions against Stratton Oakmont in 1989, culminating in its permanent shutdown in 1995. Belfort was then indicted for securities fraud and money laundering.
Belfort served 22 months of a four-year sentence at the Taft Correctional Center in Taft, California, in exchange for a plea deal with the Federal Bureau of Investigation for the pump-and-dump scams he ran that led to investor losses of approximately US$200 million. Belfort was ordered to pay back $110.4 million that he swindled from stock buyers. Belfort shared a cell with Tommy Chong while serving his sentence, and Chong encouraged Belfort to write about his experiences as a stockbroker. The pair remained friends after their release from prison, with Belfort crediting Chong for his new career direction as a motivational speaker and writer. At a motivational talk that he delivered in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE) on May 19, 2014, Belfort stated to the audience:
I got greedy…. Greed is not good. Ambition is good, passion is good. Passion prospers. My goal is to give more than I get, that’s a sustainable form of success…. Ninety-five percent of the business was legitimate…. It was all brokerage firm issues. It was all legitimate, nothing to do with liquidating stocks.
Federal prosecutors and SEC officials involved in the case, however, have said “Stratton Oakmont was not a real Wall Street firm, either literally or figuratively.”
Belfort’s restitution agreement required him to pay 50% of his income towards restitution to the 1,513 clients he defrauded until 2009, with a total of $110 million in restitution further mandated. Of the $11.6 million (USD) that had been recovered by Belfort’s victims as of 2013, about $10 million of the total was the result of the sale of forfeited properties.
In October 2013, federal prosecutors filed a complaint against Belfort. Several days later the U.S. government then withdrew its motion to find Belfort in default of his payments, after Belfort’s lawyers argued that Belfort had only been responsible for paying 50% of his salary to restitution up until 2009, and not since. The restitution he paid during his parole period (since departing from prison) amounted to “$382,910 in 2007, $148,799 in 2008, and $170,000 in 2009.” Following this period, Belfort began negotiating a restitution payment plan with the U.S. government. The final deal Belfort made with the government was to pay a minimum of $10,000 per month for life towards the restitution, after a judge ruled that Belfort was not required to pay 50% of his income past the end of his parole. He has claimed that he is additionally putting the profits from his U.S. public speaking engagements and media royalties towards the restitution, in addition to the $10,000 per month.
Prosecutors also said that he had fled to Australia to avoid taxes and conceal his assets from his victims, but later recanted their statement, which had been given to the Wall Street Journal, by issuing Belfort an official apology and requesting the WSJ print a retraction. Belfort also claimed on his website and elsewhere that he intended to request that “100% of the royalties” from his books and the Wolf of Wall Street film be turned over to victims. In June 2014, spokesmen for the U.S. attorney said Belfort’s claim was “not factual”, claiming that he had received money from the initial sale of the movie rights that was not entirely put towards his restitution repayment. BusinessWeek reported that of approximately $1.2 million paid to Belfort in connection with the film before its release, Belfort had paid only $21,000 toward his restitution obligations. Belfort has stated that while he offered to put 100% of his book deal money towards his restitution, the government refused the offer.
Belfort wrote two memoirs, The Wolf of Wall Street and Catching the Wolf of Wall Street, which have been published in approximately 40 countries and translated into 18 languages. A movie based on his books opened in 2013, starring DiCaprio as Belfort, Jonah Hill, and Margot Robbie; the film was written by Terence Winter and directed by Martin Scorsese. He wrote his first book in the days following his release from prison (after a false start during his sentence, when he wrote and destroyed 130 initial pages). He received a $500,000 advance from Random House, and before its release, a bidding war began for the book’s film rights. The former Assistant United States Attorney who prosecuted Belfort has said he believes some of the details in Belfort’s book may have been “invented”.
– Film adaptation
Filming of Scorsese’s adaptation of Belfort’s memoirs began in August 2012 and the movie was released on December 25, 2013. Time magazine reported that many of the escapades depicted in the movie are consistent with Belfort’s memoirs and what was written about him in Forbes articles, although some of the Forbes-related content was embellished. Belfort was portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio, who won the Golden Globe for Best Actor, and was nominated for an Oscar for Best Actor for his performance.
- The Wolf of Wall Street (Bantam, 2007) ISBN 978-0553805468
- Catching the Wolf of Wall Street: More Incredible True Stories of Fortunes, Schemes, Parties, and Prison (Bantam, 2009) ISBN 978-0553807042
Belfort has given motivational speeches. This has included a tour of live seminars in Australia entitled “The Truth Behind His Success”, in addition to other international appearances. In a 60 Minutes interview regarding his new career, Belfort stated of his previous life that his “greatest regret is losing people money”, and at one point in the interview, he stormed off the set when the interviewer asked if his current financial dealings were legitimate. He also runs sales seminars entitled “Jordan Belfort’s Straight Line Sales Psychology”. When he first began speaking he focused largely on motivation and ethics, then moved his focus to sales skills and entrepreneurship.
His speaking engagements are run through his business Global Motivation Inc, and as of 2014 Belfort was spending three weeks out of each month on the road for speaking engagements. The main theme of his speeches includes the importance of business ethics and learning from the mistakes he made during the 1990s—such as believing that skirting the rules of financial regulators because it was a common thing to do, did not justify his actions. His per engagement speaking fees have been about $30,000-$75,000 and his per sales seminar fee can be $80,000 or more. The main subject matter of his seminars is what he has called “Straight Line System”, a system of business advice. Some reviewers have reacted negatively to the content of the speeches, specifically Belfort’s recounting of stories from the 1990s.
During his time running the Stratton Oakmont business, Belfort divorced his first wife Denise Lombardo. He later married Nadine Caridi, a British-born, Bay Ridge, Brooklyn-raised model he met at a party. With Caridi, he had two children. Belfort and Caridi ultimately became separated following her claims of domestic violence which were fueled by his problems with drug addiction and affairs with other women. They divorced in 2005.
Belfort was the final owner of the luxury yacht Nadine, which, originally built for Coco Chanel in 1961, was renamed after Caridi. In June 1996, the yacht sank off the east coast of Sardinia and frogmen from Italian Navy special forces unit COMSUBIN rescued all who were aboard the vessel. Belfort said he insisted on sailing out in high winds against the advice of his captain, resulting in the sinking of the vessel, when waves smashed the foredeck hatch. As of 2015, Belfort is engaged to his long-time partner, Anne Koppe. Belfort is also an avid tennis player.