Notorious stock swindler Jordan Belfort claims he's a reformed man
Jordan Belfort, notorious stock swindler turned business consultant, these days says 'fraud is not something you want to be good at'
Jordan Belfort insists he's a changed man.
The old Belfort was a notorious stock swindler who squandered profits from a boiler-room "pump and dump" scheme while indulging in cocaine, prostitutes and other excesses - a story that became the basis for two memoirs and The Wolf of Wall Street, an upcoming movie starring Leonardo DeCaprio.
The new Belfort is a business consultant who claims he would never tell a lie and frets over recent suggestions that he may be avoiding payments on US$110 million in restitution by hiding his profits from the book and movie deals.
"It's very strange being accused of something I wouldn't have done in a million years," the 51-year-old Belfort said. "It's so not where my head is at."
In early October, prosecutors asked a US federal judge in Brooklyn to find Belfort in default, saying he had paid only US$11.6 million of the US$110 million he owes as restitution for a securities fraud and money laundering conviction. They have since withdrawn the request to see if a settlement can be worked out - but not before a wave of bad press portraying Belfort as a deadbeat.
"In some weird way, it probably helps the movie," he said in a recent phone interview. "It doesn't help me."
The film - directed by Martin Scorsese and set for release on Christmas Day - chronicles the boyish, fast-talking Belfort's antics as chairman of Stratton Oakmont, the firm he started with a few desks and phones set up in a former Long Island car shop.
Stratton Oakmont made a fortune by using deceptive, high-pressure tactics to peddle penny stocks at inflated prices.
Belfort and his cronies ended up making more cash than they knew what to do with: a movie trailer shows a smirking DiCaprio crumpling up US$100 bills and throwing them in a waste basket.
Looking back, Belfort says becoming rich by deceit wasn't worth it. "Fraud is not something you want to be good at," he said. "I was always taking great efforts to cover my tracks. It was unbelievably exhausting, keeping track of all the lies. ... I think that's why I lived so recklessly."
In 2003, after a broken marriage and a bout with drug addiction, Belfort was sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison and ordered to chip away at the US$110 million restitution by giving 50 per cent of his future earnings to the government. Book sales resulted in payments of about US$700,000 from 2007 to 2009, court papers say.
But after completing probation in 2010, prosecutors claim Belfort's payments have slowed to a trickle - even after he made US$940,500 off the sale of the Wolf movie rights and continued to capitalise on his notoriety as a motivational speaker and business consultant.
Under those circumstances, it's not surprising that the government went on the offensive, said Marcos Jimenez, a former federal prosecutor.
"I think it's a little bit in-your-face when you write books and help make movies about your crimes, especially when the crimes are why you owe restitution," Jimenez said.
In the interview, Belfort said he now can make tens of thousands of dollars for speaking engagements and other services.
As to his current problems with the law, Belfort's lawyers have argued that his obligation to pay half his earnings ended when he went off probation. Still, he claims he's repeatedly offered to pay 100 per cent of his book and movie profits and to negotiate a settlement on restitution, only to be met with silence.
"There's so much distrust," Belfort said of the prosecutors. "Most people lie to them. I don't want to make any money from the books or the movie. I don't think they could fathom that."
Belfort bemoaning a lack of trust is outrageous, said Dianne Nygaard, a Kansas City, Missouri, lawyer who once represented some of his victims.
"No one should consider him trustworthy," Nygaard said of Belfort. "He is the consummate con man."