Born in Queens, New York, on July 9, 1962, Jordan Belfort had a natural talent as a salesman at an early age, operating a meat and seafood business in the 1980s. After that company went bust, Belfort began selling stocks in 1987. He was running his own investment operation, Stratton Oakmont, by 1989. The company made millions illegally, defrauding its investors. The Securities Exchange Commission began efforts to stop the company's errant ways in 1992. In 1999, Belfort pleaded guilty to securities fraud and money laundering. He was sentenced in 2003 to four years in prison, but only served 22 months. Belfort published his first memoir, The Wolf of Wall Street, in 2008. The following year, he released Catching the Wolf of Wall Street.
Early Life and Career
Born on July 9, 1962, in Queens, New York, Jordan Ross Belfort became infamous for his role in swindling millions of dollars from investors in the 1990s through his investment firm, Stratton Oakmont. The son of an accountant, Belfort grew up in a modest apartment in Queens. A natural salesman, he eventually launched a business selling meat and seafood, but the company soon went belly up.
In 1987, Belfort put his sales skills to use in a different arena. He started working for a brokerage firm, learning in the ins and outs of being a stock broker. Two years later, Belfort was operating his own trading company, Stratton Oakmont.
'The Wolf of Wall Street'
With his partner, Danny Porush, Jordan Belfort raked in cash using a "pump and dump" scheme. His brokers pushed stocks onto their unsuspecting clients, which helped inflate the stocks' prices, then the company would sell off its own holdings in these stocks at a great profit.
Awash with cash, Belfort lived the high life. He spent lavishly, buying a mansion, sports cars and other expensive toys. He also developed a serious drug habit, becoming especially fond of Quaaludes. Belfort was involved in several accidents due to his drug use, including crashing his helicopter into his own yard and sinking his yacht—which once belonged to designer Coco Chanel—while under the influence. His addiction also contributed to the break-up of his second marriage.
Belfort encouraged reckless behavior in his employees, as well. Substance abuse, sex and horseplay were the norm at Stratton Oakmont's Long Island, New York, offices. An assistant at the firm was once paid $5,000 to allow some of the company's traders to shave her head. The employees were also urged to live by the motto, "Don't hang up until the customer buys or dies." Their hard-sell tactics paid off in the short term. As Belfort told the New York Post, "It's easier to get rich quick when you don't follow the rules."
Trouble with the Law
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission sought to end Stratton Oakmont's shady stock operation in 1992, claiming that the company had defrauded investors and manipulated stock prices. Two years later, Belfort found himself out of the brokerage business. Stratton Oakmont had reached a settlement with the SEC, which included a lifelong ban from working in the securities industry for Belfort and a fine for the company.
More legal woes followed for Belfort and his company. The National Association of Securities Dealers ejected Stratton Oakmont from its association in 1996, and the company was ordered to be liquidated to pay off its numerous fines and settlements the following year. In 1999, Belfort pleaded guilty to securities fraud and money laundering. He cooperated with authorities in an effort to shorten his prison sentence.
In 2003, Belfort was sentenced to four years in prison and personally fined $110 million. He served 22 months in jail, where he developed an interest in writing. Comedian Tommy Chong, one of Belfort's cellmates during this time, encouraged the former stockbroker to write about his experiences.
Life After Prison
In 2008, Jordan Belfort published his memoir, The Wolf of Wall Street, using one of his nicknames as the title. The book explored his meteoric rise and explosive crash in the financial world. The following year, Belfort released a second memoir, Catching the Wolf of Wall Street, which detailed his life after his arrest. In 2013, a film adaptation of The Wolf of Wall Street, directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Leonardo DiCaprio as Belfort, hit the big screen.
These days, Belfort lives in Los Angeles, California, to be close to his two children, Chandler and Carter, from his second marriage. He now operates his own company, which provides sales training and markets Straight Line training programs aimed at building wealth. Belfort claims to have straightened up his act. In an interview with the Daily Mail, he explained, "I'm a wolf who became a more benevolent character." Belfort has reportedly paid $14 million of the $110 million fine against him.
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