The most debauched banker of all: The shocking life of the man Leonardo DiCaprio portrays in new film The Wolf Of Wall Street
By David Leafe
PUBLISHED: 18:24 EST, 20 December 2013 | UPDATED: 18:39 EST, 20 December 2013
Behind the gleaming black-glass facade of the sprawling office building, on a sales floor almost the size of a football pitch, a pretty young woman sat on a wooden stool, wearing only a bikini as she faced the collective scrutiny of hundreds of her colleagues.
Outnumbering the women by ten to one, the men stood baying in their sharp suits and crisp shirts as they relished this latest in a long line of tasteless spectacles that punctuated their working lives.
Today this semi-clad office junior was having her long blonde hair shaved off in return for the cash she needed for a breast enlargement operation.
The high life: Leonardo DiCaprio as corrupt banker Jordan Belfort in the new film The Wolf Of Wall Street
Previous depravities had included a dwarf-tossing contest, and betting on whether a senior manager would dare to gulp down a live goldfish. Unfortunately for the fish, that manager did go through with it.
But then, at the corrupt American stockbroking firm of Stratton Oakmont, there was no telling what each day might bring.
This was a workplace where the staff were encouraged to snort cocaine, consort with prostitutes who worked the underground car park, and have sex with each other in the company’s glass-walled lift.
Anything went as long as it kept the hungry young sales staff selling the dodgy investments which made millions of dollars each day for their boss Jordan Belfort, himself only in his early 30s.
In 1999, Belfort would be found guilty of swindling investors out of $200 million (£120 million) and sentenced to 22 months in prison, but until then he indulged in a life of astonishing excess.
Infamous: Jordan Belfort and partner at the film's premiere
Confessing that he had taken enough drugs ‘to sedate Guatemala’, he once insisted on an ill-advised sailing trip while high and wrote off both his 167ft yacht and personal helicopter in one afternoon.
He boasted of having made love to his wife on a ‘mattress’ of $3 million, made up of stacks of $100 notes, and slept with hundreds of call-girls in luxury hotel suites across the world.
Some were so ‘high-class’ that they took only credit cards but what they charged didn’t matter to Belfort, a man who was raking in the dollar equivalent of £30 million a year by his late 20s and once made £7 million in just three minutes.
Now, inevitably, Hollywood has taken up his story.
Taking the nickname in which he rejoiced as its title, the new Martin Scorsese film The Wolf Of Wall Street sees Belfort played by Leonardo DiCaprio, who has likened his character’s penchant for humiliating public spectacle and debauchery to that of Ancient Rome’s most dissolute Emperor.
‘He was like a modern-day Caligula,’ DiCaprio said. ‘He held nothing back. He was unapologetic about his lust for wealth and his mad consumption.’
In one scene, crumpled-up $100 bills are tossed into rubbish bins in an extravagant parody of basketball.
In another, a bikini-clad woman has great wads of cash taped around her body, ready to be covered up by her clothes so that she can smuggle it out of the country and into Swiss bank accounts.
But even so, the film may struggle to capture the true scale of Belfort’s fast living.
As Belfort admits in the memoirs which inspired the movie, much of that consumption was a playing out of his adolescent fantasies.
Upon making his first million, he bought a white Ferrari Testarossa, the exact make and colour of car he had seen Don Johnson drive in Miami Vice, his favourite TV show when he was growing up in a tough working-class neighbourhood in Queens, New York.
Born in 1962, the son of two accountants, he hawked ice-creams on the beach as a teenager and then sold meat and seafood door-to-door before finding far more profitable outlets for his salesmanship on Wall Street.
In May 1987, he joined the investment banking firm of L. F. Rothschild, cold-calling companies to find potential clients for its brokers.
On his first day, he was taken to lunch in Rothschild’s penthouse restaurant by his boss, who brazenly snorted cocaine at the table and recommended it as a means of making Belfort ‘dial faster’.
'Caligula': Leonardo DiCaprio has likened his character's penchant for humiliating public spectacle and debauchery to that of Ancient Rome¿s most dissolute Emperor
Belfort's firm Stratton Oakmont was a workplace where the staff were encouraged to snort cocaine, consort with prostitutes who worked the underground car park, and have sex with each other in the company's lift
Within a year, he had set up Stratton Oakmont in a suburb of Long Island. Based at first in a former car repair workshop, with only a few desks and phones, the company specialised in a scam known as ‘pump and dump’.
Buying cheap shares in a company, Belfort and his staff then inflated their value by talking up the company’s prospects to the potential investors they cold-called.
If enough of them bought into the company, too, the price rocketed and Belfort then sold his over-valued shares, pocketing the profit and not caring that the price then slumped, causing huge financial losses to his victims.
He chose them carefully, targeting the richest 1 per cent of Americans, an elite of ‘closet degenerate gamblers who can’t withstand the temptation to keep rolling the dice again and again’.
Key to his success was realising that ‘young men and women who possess an intelligence quotient in the range of Forrest Gump on three hits of acid can be taught to sound like Wall Street wizards as long as you write every last word down for them’.
These ‘Strattonite’ brokers, many of them barely out of school, were told that ‘no one hangs up the phone until a customer buys or dies’.
Following exactly the scripts written
by Belfort, even a novice could earn $250,000 (£150,000) in his first
year, and he would be out of the door if he wasn’t making more than a
million by year three.
still sporting teenage acne and only recently acquainted with a razor
blade were going out and buying mansions,’ he recalled.
In those lavish homes, the
Strattonites held wild summer parties where prostitutes and strippers
were honoured guests and young Stratton girls danced topless before
getting intimate with their male counterparts, ‘rutting away under the
clear blue sky like barnyard animals, happy to put on a show for an
expanding live audience’.
The hedonism continued at the smart new offices that the company occupied as its workforce expanded to more than 1,000 employees.
Drugged up: At one point, Belfort was taking 22 different stimulants and medications including cocaine, morphine and valium
There, Belfort boasted, the glass lift was christened by a young male broker who was pleasured in it by a 17-year-old female sales assistant.
She then serviced another seven Strattonites, including Belfort himself, ministering to them under their desks in a perverse twist on the office shoe-shine.
When these carnal merry-go-rounds threatened to get in the way of business, Belfort issued a crude notice announcing that the offices would be a ‘F*** Free Zone’ between the hours of 7am and 8pm, but the drug-taking and carnival atmosphere continued unabated.
Employees brought pets into the office, one parading round a nappy-wearing chimpanzee, another a macaw whose vocabulary came to include the words ‘F*** off’ and key words from the Strattonites’ sales scripts.
Small wonder they nicknamed their workplace Disneyland for Dysfunctional People.
Belfort’s home life was no less colourful. He had married his first wife Denise when he had nothing, but they divorced soon after he became wealthy and he began an affair with Nadine Caridi, a British-born model he met on holiday in the Hamptons on America’s East Coast.
In a strange twist to the story, he would later persuade her aunt, a retired English teacher who is played in the film by Joanna Lumley, to let him use her name to launder millions of dollars into Swiss bank accounts.
She died of a stroke before the plan got properly under way.
Ahead of his wedding to Nadine, his stag night saw him fly 100 employees, and almost as many prostitutes, to Las Vegas for a drug-fuelled orgy.
A further £600,000 went on jetting 300 guests to the Caribbean island of Anguilla to celebrate the nuptials with a week-long, all-expenses-paid holiday in a five-star hotel.
The partying was so intense that he later claimed that Anguilla’s president told him they would all have been under arrest for drug possession if they hadn’t brought so much business to the island.
At their estate on Long Island, the newlyweds’ many extravagances included a £30,000 canopy of white Chinese silk over their bed, and the hiring of a husband-and-wife team of marine biologists, paid £110,000 a year between them, to look after the lavish pond and waterfall system.
The proud owner of two helicopters, Belfort flew them even when high on drugs and his full-time co-pilot, Captain Marc Elliot, was forbidden to touch the controls unless Belfort had actually passed out cold.
Based on the book: 'His attitude was something that I felt needed to be put up on the screen,' said DiCaprio
On one occasion, after netting £12 million in a single deal, Belfort bought a vintage Aston Martin worth £150,000.
He then spent a further £60,000 on turning it into a car worthy of James Bond, complete with a radar jammer, a number plate that slid back to reveal a strobe light that would blind pursuers, and a device to drop nails on the road and puncture their tyres.
The key difference between this vehicle and those driven by 007 was that its trappings drew so much power from the car’s battery that it broke down every time he took it out and it remained in his garage, virtually undriven.
Much of the rest of Belfort’s money was blown on drugs. At one point, he was taking 22 different stimulants and medications including cocaine, morphine and valium.
But his particular vice was Quaalude, a recreational drug based on a prescription sedative so powerful that it is banned in many countries.
In August 1993, he woke to find himself strapped down to his seat in the first-class compartment of a Geneva-bound Swiss Air plane, apparently too drugged out on Quaaludes to remember having sexually assaulted an air stewardess.
After his Swiss banking contacts
pressured the airline to let him off, he then had the nerve to ask for
the stewardess’s phone number.
Jordan Belfort at the wheel of his speedboat off St Barts in the Caribbean
that request was rebuffed, he booked into a hotel room, took yet more
Quaaludes and hired a beautiful Ethiopian prostitute who waited
patiently beside him as he took a phone call from his wife.
dependency on Quaaludes was such that, when he ran short of the drug in
a £9,000-a-night suite at the Dorchester in London, he woke his
secretary at 4am New York time, telling her to send his chauffeur over
on Concorde with a fresh supply.
was in a Quaalude-induced state of agitation that, in 1995, he shouted
down the captain of his beautiful, teak-decked motor yacht, built for
fashion designer Coco Chanel, and insisted that he put to sea off
Sardinia in a force-eight gale.
a storm hit and they began to sink, Belfort and the other 18 people on
board were winched to safety but the yacht and his expensive toys — a
helicopter sited on deck and eight jet-skis — were lost.
his way back to the U.S., he ran up £430,000 in hotel bills, almost
half of which went on a gold bangle, studded with rubies and emeralds,
he bought for his wife Nadine after yet another druggy episode saw him
falling asleep into a chocolate souffle.
then, they had two small children, a three-year-old daughter, Chandler,
whose birth was marked with the purchase of a £36,000 crib, and a baby
son, Carter — and his addictions were threatening their marriage.
only grew worse after December 1996 when financial regulators, who had
long had their eye on Stratton Oakmont, accused the company of
defrauding its customers and ordered it to be closed down.
few months later, Nadine discovered that Belfort had taken a knife to
hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of soft furnishings, slashing open
sofa cushions in search of a missing rock of crack cocaine.
Coming soon: The Wolf of Wall Street opens in the U.S. on December 25, and in the UK on January 17
What a team: DiCaprio Posing with frequent director Martin Scorsese
Nadine finally left him when, heavily stoned, he kicked her downstairs in front of their young daughter and drove his Mercedes convertible into his garage door with little Chandler sitting unbuckled in the front seat beside him.
Belfort was charged with fraud and money laundering the following year. In prison, he was inspired to write his story after reading Tom Wolfe’s satirical novel The Bonfire Of The Vanities.
He found he could relate to Wolfe’s ‘Masters Of The Universe’, those Wall Street yuppies who shared his ‘childish sense of self-entitlement’.
Now 50, he tours the world as a motivational speaker, advocating business techniques that will bring ‘massive wealth . . . without sacrificing integrity and ethics’.
That may seem ironic coming from a man once described as a ‘twisted Robin Hood who steals from the rich and gives to himself’, but Belfort insists that only someone who has made his mistakes can warn off others contemplating such a path of corruption.
It would be nice to think they could be thus deterred. But while most people were appalled by Gordon Gekko’s ‘greed is good’ character in the film Wall Street, Belfort admits he was once deeply impressed by him.
With trailers from this new film showing seas of cocaine, glamorous pool parties and Leonardo DiCaprio cavorting with models, it seems entirely possible that those unscrupulous characters who have it in them to be Masters Of The Universe will come away from it not repulsed, but inspired.
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