Dec 09

Gordon Gekko Redux: Jordan Belfort’s Hollywood Redemption?

We all remember the infamous Gordon Gekko scene from the original Wall Street movie when he empowered Teldar Paper shareholders with his “Greed is good” speech:

Greed, for lack of a better word, is good.  Greed is right, greed works.  Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit.  Greed, in all of its forms: greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge, has marked the upward surge of mankind.  And greed, you mark my words, will not only save Teldar Paper, but that other malfunctioning corporation called the USA.

America’s love (or hatred) for Gekko, perhaps the most infamous and well-coiffed stockbroker in Hollywood history, exhibits how Hollywood can’t get enough of the white collar crime story.  And it doesn’t stop with Gordon Gekko.  Due to be released Christmas Day 2013, The Wolf of Wall Street portrays the life of Jordan Belfort, the founder of Long Island’s infamous Stratton Oakmont penny-stock brokerage firm which grew to over 1,000 brokers in its heyday before it was shut down by the SEC.  Belfort was ultimately convicted of money laundering and securities fraud in 2003, served almost two years of a four-year prison sentence, and was ordered to pay $110.4 million in restitution to victims of his fraud.  But in spite of his sinking his own ship just years ago, today, he has risen back to the top Martha Stewart-style with two books and a movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio under his belt.

And whether you find Belfort reprehensible for luring naïve twenty somethings to join his coalition of ruthless brokers or admirable for outsmarting law enforcement by laundering money to Switzerland via his wife’s retired aunt, one thing is for certain: Belfort is a salesman with the gift of gab and a knack for manipulation.  After dropping out of dental school, Belfort paid the bills by selling frozen lobsters and steaks door-to-door.  He empowered those same salesman skills when he moved to Wall Street, manipulating others with his powers of persuasion and scamming more than $100 million from investors throughout the 1990s.  When Belfort was arrested in 1998, rather than invoke his Fifth Amendment privilege, he convinced government officials to allow him to wear and wire to help build cases against his then-partners and associates.  The federal prosecutor who handled Belfort’s case was so impressed with Belfort’s aptitude for speaking glibly that he later invited Belfort to speak to other prosecutors.  However, it wasn’t until Belfort was behind bars that he realized that he could employ his way with words in legal business ventures instead of illegal scams.  While in prison, he committed himself to writing his autobiography and today is the proud author of The Wolf of Wall Street and Catching the Wolf of Wall Street: More Incredible True Stories of Fortunes, Schemes, Parties, and Prison.  Of course, one-half of Belfort’s earnings from his books, movies, and other miscellaneous investments go directly toward his outstanding restitution obligations.

Although the jury may still be out, Belfort’s autobiography nonetheless provides an example of redemption and resilience.  Time will tell if he takes the path of one of the inspirations Gordon Gekko, Michael Milken, whose own tale of redemption is well known.  In any event, his story of Wall Street excesses will soon join Gekko’s on the silver screen this holiday season.

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