In the second installment, the real-life «Wolf of Wall Street» tells finews.com about how his own brokerage tipped into illegal dealings and his close brush with another scam – the 1MDB corruption scandal.
Jordan Belfort granted finews.com an exclusive interview ahead of anappearance in Switzerland in May. Born with the gift of gab and with a childhood desire to get rich, he spoke at length about his Queens upbringing, why he voted for Donald Trump, how he was corrupted by Wall Street’s endemic greed, how he smelled corruption surrounding 1MDB, which allegedly bankrolled the blockbuster movie based on his book, and how he lives now. Excerpts of the interview, which has been edited to remove some, but not all, profanity, will be published in three parts in German and English; click here for the first installment.
Jordan Belfort, did you ever think about the whole scheme around your brokerage, Stratton Oakmont, collapsing around you?
Yeah. The movie is totally inaccurate. I sold out, I got out. The movie is weird like that, because they wanted me there versus not there. But the fact is that when I gave that speech, I didn’t change my mind and say ‚I’m staying.‘ I left!
And the firm ran for four more years without me. Now my greed caused me to stay an extra year, so another year where I did from behind the scenes run it through Danny (Daniel Porush, a former close associate). It wasn’t so much greed as it was my baby and I couldn’t let go.
«I’m not that person anymore»
It’s wildly inaccurate in the movie that we were trying to rip people off. If it was true, I would tell you because I don’t care. I’m not that person anymore anyway. The thing that bothered me about the movie was, that was a better story!
Did you try and find a way to get out of Stratton Oakmont before that?
Every day. I didn’t go to work for like two years almost. I think I told this story to one journalist who didn’t want to believe it, but I think in the early years people didn’t want to believe it. But enough time has passed now that people can get realistic about it. Journalists don’t always write the truth, they have their agenda, their narrative.
I don’t care what you write, it doesn’t affect my life, but if you want the real honest truth about what happened was, I hated it from the beginning, I felt like shit about it. But I got addicted to the money and power and the recognition from all these kids who called me The King and all this sort of stuff and I always looked for a way to make it legit. I always was.
You say that you set up Stratton Oakmont as a legitimate asset manager and that you would have never set out to steal. What happened?
I realized how hard it was to find good companies. The people all lie to you! They do! All the CEOs lie to you about this when they’re trying to raise money. Everyone tells you a story. I’m gullible naturally. I’m easily sold, I’m a sucker. I still to this day get taken for money.
I wanted to believe, there was that part. I made a fundamental error when I was at Stratton, and that was the impact it had on my ability to train brokers and create massive amounts of buying power was unprecedented. No one had ever seen it before so I almost had this sort of ability to buy massive quantities of stock, but I didn’t have the right stocks.
Imagine Apple invents the iPhone, and everyone wants an iPhone. They could sell 20 million iPhones, but they don’t have the parts and they don’t have the capacity. So they say, ‚let’s just put out some shittier iPhones, let’s call them iPhones and lets sell them anyway.‘
You eventually served 22 months in jail. What lessons did you come away with?
I came out with a few: some are obvious some are less obvious. The obvious ones are that my mother was right that if you lie down with dogs you wake up with fleas – you are the people you surround yourself with!
I made a mistake and I surrounded myself with the wrong people and one of the wonderful things about Anne – she’s my partner (Anne Koppe, Belfort’s fiance and business partner, pictured with him at left) – is that she is very, very careful who we associate with. She’s very ethical. When I met her I already was, but it’s just good to have somebody who’s so vigilant about this sort of stuff, about only associating with really wonderful people.
Because you get dragged into other people’s shit and I surrounded myself with a lot of really bad people – not bad human beings, people who had already gotten sucked in.
Are you introspective and if so, how do you explain how you went as far over the line as you did?
Of course, who do you think I am? Growing up where I grew up, we always had that thing about it came to be a critical thing for me in my teens about not having money and the people who had money. I was a late bloomer also, I wanted girls. I started associating money with girls and that aspect came into it as well. I’m not the first guy to have a downfall by chasing women, right?
You’re probably not the last either.
I think part of maturing as human being, growing, is knowing what you’re good at and what you’re not, knowing what your tendencies are and what your weaknesses. I think everyone is built differently. Some people have a natural propensity to be sucked in, and I think it’s so many different beliefs and experiences. It’s not so much like, ‚I was insecure and so I did that.‘ I don’t think it’s quite that, I think it’s much deeper than that.
I think that now as an older person, hopefully as a more mature person who’s learned some lessons from my own mistakes and my own successes is that I can’t allow myself to even get near that, I cannot put myself in a position to get sucked in. You can’t be half-pregnant with ethics, that was a major belief. Anne will tell you, I run the other way from shit.
Do you have an example of running the other way in your post-prison life?
If you look at the movie, for instance: the movie’s a huge success, and then it turns out the guys who financed it were criminals. And this guy Jho Low. Leo (Leonardo DiCaprio, who stars as Belfort in «Wolf») got sucked in. Leo’s an honest guy. But I met these guys, and said to Anne, ‚these guys are fucking criminals‘.
And then I met them at the launch party. They flew me to Cannes four or five months after they bought the movie and they wanted to announce it in Cannes. It hadn’t even gone into production yet, and they threw a launch party. They must have spent $3 million on a launch party. They flew in Kayne West, and I said to Anne, ‚this is a fucking scam, anybody who does this has stolen money.‘ You wouldn’t spend money you worked for like that.
What happened after that with Red Granite, the production firm allegedly bankrolled by 1MBD?
So then the movie goes into production and I’m spending a lot of time with Leo and these guys wanted to meet me for dinner and they wanted me to go to Vegas with Leo. They offered me money and everything to go to Vegas. A lot of money. Like $500,000, which I really could’ve used. I was like, ‚I can’t do it‘. Leo went, Margo (Margo Robbie, «Wolf» co-star) went.
I refused to go. And because of that I’m not mentioned in the articles. I’ve learned my lesson. It’s all Red Granite. They tried to offer me money and give me things, I never even spoke to these guys. I was like, ‘I don’t need these fucking people.’ I knew it, it was so obvious.