By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
The cocktail buzz was loud and Cristal clear: The Wolf of Wall Street had an image problem with the young entrepreneurs of Los Angeles.
“Frankly, I came here thinking this Jordan Belfort guy would be an asshole,” confided Robb Lejuwaan, a financial-services guy at a book signing for Belfort organized by 26-year-old Stephanie Frasco through the social-networking site E.Factor.
Even the Wolf’s hot blond girlfriend admitted she’d had serious questions about the cocky guy who walked up to her six months ago on a Manhattan Beach soccer field, told her he had broken up with his girlfriend and handed her his best-seller — about his career scamming Wall Street out of $200 million — like it was a business card.
“I was prepared to despise him,” Anne Koppe said. “I was ready to be bored by his story.”
And that was before she read the Mr. Big Shot subhead on the book’s cover: “Stock Market Multimillionaire at 26, Federal Convict at 36, I partied like a rock star, lived like a king, and barely survived my rise and fall as an American Entrepreneurial Icon.” Of course, the book inspired a Hollywood cliché of a bidding war that got crazy: Marty and Leo battled Brad and won. The film, with Leo set to play Belfort, is in development.
Clearly, the Wolf did not seem particularly ashamed of his off–Wall Street career fleecing greedy investors, or of his nearly two years in federal prison.
“Nobody got killed,” he said as he prepared to address the crowd. “I mean, I feel bad for the rich people that lost money, but ...”
Belfort was more aware than anyone west of “Fifty-Billion Bernie” Madoff that there is a rising tide of public anger washing over Wall Street. Most of that anger is falling on the bankers and brokers who cooked up exotic financial instruments like Ninja mortgages (no income, no job, no assets) and credit-default swaps (I’ll cover your bad paper if you cover mine) until finally the whole toxic stew imploded three months ago into what’s starting to look a lot like The Great Depression 2.0.
“People are angry and scared,” Belfort said in his nasal New Yawk accent. “They’re really pissed off.”
Short and trim in a crisp brown-slacks-white-shirt-and-blue-blazer way, the fiercely analytical, fast-talking Belfort is still boyish at 46 with a full head of brown hair and smooth, angular features that suggest a prep school principal more than a perp-walk felon.
Until he opens his mouth.
Then you can imagine this guy talking you into anything — a 30-year ARM mortgage, some AK-47s from Russia or a partridge in a pear tree. Belfort had nothing to do with this year’s bubble-bursting, Dow Jones–diving, 401(k)-collapsing nightmare. He is one of the designated villains from the last great Wall Street crime spree of the mid-’90s, a real-life Gordon Gekko who pumped-and-dumped microcap stocks and spent the illicit profits on so much lurid sex and hard drugs that he says he lost his mind.
At his peak he was making a million dollars a week, kept $3 million cash in a drawer, couldn’t keep track of all the hookers coming and going from his Hamptons estate, and was taking a pharmacopoeia of illicit drugs that would stagger an elephant. Finally he was arrested getting on a plane to smuggle tons of cash to Switzerland and subsequently spent 22 months in Taft Federal Prison Camp. After his release, on November 1, 2005, Belfort got divorced from his second wife and she immediately moved cross-country to SoCal. So he followed her and moved to Manhattan Beach to be close to their two kids, whom he sees every day.
In his little house by the sea he stared out at the ocean, sober now and without his family. He relived in excruciating slow-motion detail the out-of-control roller-coaster ride he — and everyone around him — had been on for a decade.
Even his father, a respected accountant, had been sucked in when he came to work for Belfort at his Long Island brokerage known as Stratton Oakmont, a Waspy old-school name even though it was really two Jewish guys out to hype penny stocks and get out before they crashed.
So Belfort sat down and plumbed the depths of his soul to write The Wolf of Wall Street, a nickname given to him at a drunken party as he and his stock-selling crew watched Thurston Howell III on TV’s Gilligan’s Island proclaim himself the WWS.
His searing memoir of sex, drugs and stock-we-stole is really the story of one man’s self-destructive descent into money madness and an emotional hellhole. But some marketing genius decided it should be sold as a how-to business book and it languished on store shelves when it came out a year ago.
Then it got discovered by young entrepreneurs. “That’s when it became a Wall Street Journal best-seller,” said Frasco, who thought Belfort’s story would appeal to the independent-minded crowd at the mid-Wilshire shared office/networking site BlankSpaces. “It’s really a cautionary tale for young entrepreneurs, not a book about how to make money. That’s in there, but only little kernels here and there.”
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