Robert Shearin of Manhattan Beach is planning to see Martin Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street when it comes out next week.
But it's not because of the felonies-are-fun billboards or the total-testosterone trailers inviting moviegoers to join Leonardo DiCaprio on a rollicking ride of wild sex, pharmaceutical-pure drugs and stock-we-stole.
No, Shearin, 66, is going to see The Wolf of Wall Street because he lived through it – as vulnerable prey of the real-life Wolf, Jordan Belfort. Belfort still owes Shearin and more than 1,000 other victims millions of dollars — even as he's making money as a motivational speaker and living high on the hog in pricey Hermosa Beach.
Belfort was founder and president of the New York investment banking firm Stratton Oakmont. From 1988-96, Stratton Oakmont targeted investors like Shearin in a classic “pump-and-dump” scheme: Its brokers would buy up large blocks of penny stocks, convince people like Shearin to invest in them to drive the price up, and then ignore their sell orders – even while dumping their own blocks of stock for huge profits, leaving their investors with worthless stock when the price inevitably plummeted back to where it started.
“By the end it was constant screaming matches with these people,” Shearin recalls. “They would just ignore my sell orders.”
But today, 20 years later, Shearin is looking forward to seeing his financial nightmare relived on screen.
“I want to remind myself of the bad choices I made long ago and to make better ones in the future,” Shearin tells the Weekly. “A scoundrel like that only succeeds because he plays on people's greed and avarice. I have to accept my own stupidity for getting snookered by his boiler room operation.”
Shearin sometimes sees Belfort, 51, walking around Manhattan Beach, playing tennis at the Manhattan Beach Country Club or hanging out at his Mediterranean-style mansion on the Strand, the miles-long walkway that separates sea-side houses from the Pacific.
“He's a cocky little short guy, and it does annoy me to see him strutting around like a peacock, living the high life,” Shearin tells the Weekly. “I've thought about going up to him, introducing myself and saying 'Hey buddy, you owe me a lot of money.' But I have no desire to meet him.”
Shearin said he was fleeced out of “six figures” by Belfort's “pump-and-dump” stock scheme back in 1991, and was paid back about 20 cents on the dollar more than a decade ago, with no payments since.
According to federal prosecutors, Shearin is just one of 1,513 investors still owed a lot of money by Belfort. And Belfort is now trying to weasel out of his agreement to pay them $110 million in restitution — an agreement that was part of the reason he served just 22 months in federal prison. (The other reason was that after he was arrested in 1998 on securities fraud and money laundering charges, he spent the next five years wearing a wire, ratting out friends and colleagues from Stratton Oakmont and testifying against them at trial.)
On Oct. 11 Loretta Lynch, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, filed a motion asking a judge to declare Belfort in default of his restitution obligations. The motion said that Belfort had only paid restitution of $243,000 over the last four years — despite income of $1.7 million from his two memoirs and the sale of the film rights, plus an additional $24,000 from motivational speaking fees.
Of the $11.6 million he's paid as restitution so far, prosecutors allege, $10.4 million came immediately from forfeited properties, including several houses, cars and boats Belfort was forced to turn over to the government after being arrested.
His payments have slowed to a trickle in recent years, his attorney Robert Begleiter claims, because the agreement mandating he pay 50 percent of his income expired when his probation ended in 2009.
Two weeks after Lynch filed her motion asking to have Belfort declared a deadbeat, she withdrew it. Spokesman Robert Nardosa says the prosecutor has entered into negotiations with Belfort, negotiations that after two months have not reached a resolution. Despite the withdrawal, Nardosa said the financial facts set out in Lynch's letter to the court remain her official position.
Begleiter explained to Fox News that the negotiations center on Belfort's offer to pay all the money from the film and books into the restitution fund if Lynch will substantially reduce the rest of his obligation.
“There is no doubt that there is a $110 million judgment that Jordan has to pay,” Begleiter said. “We're offering a deal where they would get more money than they might otherwise. What happens if he gets struck by lightning? Then they get nothing.”
Diane Nygaard, an attorney in Kansas City who represented Shearin and two dozen other Belfort investors, was shocked at the brazenness of Belfort's attempt to weasel out of his restitution obligations. No responsible law enforcement agency, she says, would ever have agreed to a restitution agreement that ended when the defendant came off probation.
Nardosa said he could not provide a copy of the agreement because it is not a public document. Begleiter told the Weekly he was too busy to discuss the case but would have Belfort call back to explain it. Belfort never called back, nor did he respond to emails seeking comment for this story.
Five years ago, the Weekly accompanied Belfort to one of his first speaking gigs, with the Young Entrepreneurs of Los Angeles. During the Q&A following his talk, Belfort had a stock answer whenever anyone questioned the morality of what he had done to his investors. “Hey, at least no one got killed,” he said several times.
Nygaard, the attorney who represented Shearin and other investors, snorted when she heard it repeated last week. “I guess you could say no one was murdered,” she said. “But a lot of lives were ruined, and many of the more elderly investors never recovered.”
More recently, in a round of interviews over the summer and early fall as the film finally approached a release date, Belfort adopted a less cavalier tone and insisted he was a different man then the “Wolf” who gleefully stole money from elderly investors, treated women like sexual vending machines and lived on Quaaludes and cocaine, with single-malt scotch to wash it all down.
“I was not such a good guy back in the day. But I'm a good guy now. I am. I live my life with such integrity,” he told the New York Daily News in October. He also claimed to have been sober since 1998.
But Shearin, a 25-year recovering alcoholic, isn't buying it — at least not the part about being a changed man.
“As a 12-step guy, I know that part of changing is trying hard to make amends and meaning it,” he says. “If he was truly changed, he would be paying every cent he could into the restitution fund, not living the high life and claiming his 50 percent obligation is no longer in effect now that the film is about to come out. He's just rubbing it in our faces.”
And Shearin was philosophical about the prospect that Wolf of Wall Street will be a big hit and could even win an Oscar, given the positive buzz — Rolling Stone's Peter Travers recently rated it the third best film of 2013 — and the high-powered talents of Scorsese and DiCaprio.
“Jordan Belfort is not a fictional character, but when DiCaprio plays him he becomes one for the audience,” he said. “We like our scoundrels as entertainment, but it's easy to become disengaged from the real harm this guy did.”
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