25: The Wolf of Wall Street

The latest in the line of collaborations between actor Leonardo DiCaprio and director Martin Scorsese is 2013’s The Wolf of Wall Street. It received positive reviews, and also held the honor of topping the most-pirated films list of 2014. That’s according to copyright tracking firm Excipio, which puts out a list of the most pirated films each year. Their report indicated The Wolf of Wall Street was the most-pirated in 2014 with over 30 million illegal downloads.

If you’ve seen the movie, you’ll know how crazy the story is. Surely most of that was added for the big screen. Or was it?

Did you enjoy this episode? Help support the next one!

Buy me a coffeeBuy me a coffee

Resources

Disclaimer: Dan LeFebvre and/or Based on a True Story may earn commissions from qualifying purchases through our links on this page.

Transcript

Note: This transcript is automatically generated. There will be mistakes, so please don’t use them for quotes. It is provided for reference use to find things better in the audio.

The Wolf of Wall Street tells the story of Wall Street broker Jordan Belfort, who is played by Leonardo DiCaprio. We’re introduced to Leonardo DiCaprio’s version of Jordan as he explains a bit about his life:

His wife, Naomi, played by Margot Robbie. His 170-foot yacht. The fact that he has sex with hookers five or six times a week and does a ton of drugs.

After this rather stunning introduction that sets the pace of the film, we go back to learn about how Jordan broke into, well, the broker business. According to the movie, Jordan didn’t grow up with wealth, but at the age of 22, Jordan got a job at the investment firm L.F. Rothschild on Wall Street. That’s where he got hooked on money.

This background is mostly true, with the exception of his age.

Jordan was born in 1962 in New York City and, just like the movie says, both of his parents were accountants. After dropping out of dentistry school when the dean of the University of Maryland School of Dentistry told him dentistry is the wrong place to make a lot of money, Jordan moved to Long Island where he started selling meat and seafood. For a short while things were going well, but the business ended up forcing Jordan to file for bankruptcy at the age of 25.

So it was at the age of 25 that a family friend helped him get back on his feet by finding a job for him as a trainee stockbroker at L.F. Rothschild.

In the movie, it’s while at L.F. Rothschild that Jordan’s boss, Mark Hanna as played by Matthew McConaughey, that Jordan learns the real secret to Wall Street: Cocaine and hookers. Well, that and the stockbroker’s ability to convince their clients to re-invest any earnings they have into a new stock, along with a bit more. Each time, the client is getting rich on paper while the stockbroker makes bank on the commissions.

According to the real Jordan Belfort’s memoirs, this actually happened. Mark Hanna gave him advice early on about how to make money on Wall Street—and the drugs and hookers.

For a while this works. Then, just like in the movie, Black Monday hits. The movie glosses over this, but Black Monday was on October 19th, 1987. Stock markets around the world crashed. In the United States, the Dow Jones fell 508 points. Millions of dollars were lost overnight.

And again, according to the real Jordan, this was the catalyst for his getting canned at L.F. Rothschild. It wasn’t anything personal, a lot of people lost their jobs as a result of the market crash.

On the hunt for a job again, the next part of the movie is also correct. Jordan returned to Long Island where he started working for a company called Investor Center. What the movie doesn’t mention, though, is this little company was owned by a larger company called Stratton Securities. So while the movie does mention Jordan going off on his own to form Stratton Oakmont, it wasn’t quite the startup like the movie implies. Instead, after a year of working at Investor Center, Jordan earned enough to buy out Stratton Securities and that’s how Stratton Oakmont was formed.

Just like in the movie, Jordan hired a bunch of his friends to be his first stockbrokers. Although the whole “sell me this pen” stereotypical salesman technique wasn’t something Jordan did—that was added for the movie.

In the movie, one of those friends is Donnie Azoff, played by Jonah Hill. The two meet in a diner after Donnie noticed Jordan’s nice car and asks him how much money he makes. Donnie was so impressed by Jordan’s making $72,000 in the last month that he immediately quit his job and went to go to work for Jordan.

That didn’t happen. In fact, Donnie Azoff isn’t a real person. Donnie is a composite character, but the majority of his character in the film was based on Danny Porush. In real life Danny met Jordan through his wife.

Oh, but Danny’s wife was his cousin—just like Donnie’s wife in the movie.

Stratton Oakmont grew fast, just like the movie indicated. In the movie, there’s a moment where Forbes does a profile on Stratton Oakmont. Leo’s version of Jordan is upset that Forbes calls him “a twisted Robin Hood” and they come up with the nickname, “the wolf of Wall Street.”

Forbes did do a profile on Jordan. The Forbes article came out on October 14th, 1991. And Forbes staff writer Roula Khalaf did call him “twisted Robin Hood who takes from the rich and gives to himself and his merry band of brokers.” But the article didn’t come up with the wolf of Wall Street moniker. According to the Forbes article, Stratton, pushed dicey stocks on gullible investors.

 

Back in the movie, it’s about this point that Leo’s version of Jordan meets Naomi, played by Margot Robbie. And it’s about this point that Leo starts thinking of divorcing his then-wife, Teresa. In the movie Teresa is played by Cristin Milioti.

That’s true, although the names were different in the movie than real life. Jordan’s first wife was named Denise Lombardo, and Jordan was married to her from 1985 to 1991. Jordan divorced Denise after he met Nadine Caridi at a Stratton Oakmont party and that same year Jordan and Nadine were married.

In the movie, Jordan’s wedding present for Naomi is a 170-foot yacht named the Naomi after her. This is true, although since Jordan’s second wife was named Nadine the boat was also called The Nadine. But their marriage was far from a happy one. After the honeymoon phase, the movie shows Jordan’s typical morning ritual:

Fight with Naomi about whatever he did the night before. Go in the steam room to get the drugs out from the day before. Finally, assess the damage and seek to make up with Naomi.

These specifics were taken straight from the real Jordan’s book. The scene where Naomi spreads her legs open and tells Jordan he won’t be getting sex for a long time, only to find out she’s in full view of the security tape. So, according to Jordan at least, that’s true.

Back at the office in the movie, one of the craziest scenes for Donnie is when he eats the pet fish from the Silicon Valley guy. Thomas Middleditch. He plays Hooli’s founder Richard Hendricks in Silicon Valley. Okay, so The Wolf of Wall Street was released the year before Silicon Valley came out and in the movie Thomas obviously isn’t playing Richard Hendricks. In the movie he’s actually credited as “Stratton Broker in a Bowtie.” But he’ll always be the Silicon Valley guy to me.

Anyway, Jonah Hill’s version of Donnie swallows the Silicon Valley guy’s pet fish and then fires him. Amazingly, this is true. Well, at least Danny Porush claims it’s true. We don’t really have any other proof of this other than Danny’s word, so I guess we’ll have to take him for it. And considering how much drugs and alcohol was common in the Stratton Oakmont offices, it’s not surprising that some crazy things happened.

This fish-eating moment happened on, according to Leo’s version of Jordan, the biggest day in Stratton’s history. They’re launching Steve Madden’s IPO. In the movie Steve Madden is played by Jake Hoffman.

Just like in the movie, the real Stratton Oakmont was the firm who launched Steve Madden, Inc.’s initial public offering for his women’s shoe company. And just like in the movie, Steve was a childhood friend of Danny Porush, the guy who Jonah Hill’s character was primarily based on. The movie doesn’t really mention this, but the real Steve Madden was tangled up in Stratton Oakmont’s scheme. In 2002, he was convicted of stock manipulation, money and securities fraud. Before he went to prison, though, Steve resigned as CEO of Steve Madden, Ltd., and then accepted a position at Steve Madden, Ltd., as a creative consultant for a handsome salary of $700,000 a year. He was sentenced to 31 months, and still drew that salary while he was in prison.

But that’s after the events in the movie.

Back in the movie’s timeline, after the IPO of Steve Madden’s company, the FBI is starting to put things together. Agent Denham, played by Kyle Chandler, starts to catch on to the illegal behavior going on at Stratton Oakmont. He even meets with Leo’s version of Jordan on his yacht, the Naomi.

That didn’t happen, and as you can probably guess Agent Patrick Denham is another fake name. In truth the agent at the FBI who was tracking Jordan Belfort was FBI Special Agent Gregory Coleman.

Knowing the FBI is investigating him, in the movie Jordan decides to start hiding his money. He’s going to do this by moving it to a Swiss bank account. To get the cash to Switzerland, he needs someone with a European passport. And he finds someone in Naomi’s Aunt Emma, who is played by Joanna Lumley. But there’s way too much cash for one person to take. So they go with Jordan’s drug dealer’s wife, Chantalle, a stripper born in Switzerland.

The drug dealer’s name is Brad, and he’s played by Jon Bernthal and Chantalle is played by Katarina Cas.

The names are changed, for example Brad is based on the real Todd Garret, a drug dealer who provided Jordan with Quaaludes. But the basic gist of this is pretty accurate. Aunt Emma was actually named Patricia, but this is how the real Jordan moved his money to Switzerland. And while the details of the argument in the exchange are fictionalized, just like in the movie, Jordan’s drug-dealer friend, Brad in the movie, botched a money hand-off with Danny Porush.

The FBI was getting closer.

As a quick side note, the private investigator in the movie, Bo Dietl, is actually playing himself. That’s the real P.I. that the real Jordan Belfort hired to try to find out what the FBI was investigating.

In the movie, Bo warns Jordan that his home is tapped and after taking an obscene amount of Lemmon 714 pills, he drives his Lamborghini Countach from a country club to his home. Then Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill proceed to have the slowest fight in movie history. It’s pretty funny to see.

And again, the details weren’t quite that way but the basic gist of this was true. For example, according to the real Jordan Belfort it wasn’t a Lamborghini but a Mercedes that he drove while high on expired Quaaludes.

Oh, and if you’re like me and you’re not familiar with what Quaaludes are, that’s a brand name of the methaqualone drug. It’s a sedative drug that’s used to treat anxiety. It’s also incredibly addictive. While not related to this at all, in 2015 comedian Bill Cosby admitted to drugging women he wanted to have sex with using Quaaludes.

Leo’s version of Jordan in the movie is shocked when he sees the banged up Lamborghini. He’s amazed he didn’t get hurt. He’s amazed he didn’t hurt anyone else.

That’s not true. He did hurt someone else. While the real Jordan couldn’t recall this happening because he was so high, while he was driving his Mercedes he caused a head-on collision that sent the driver of the other car to the hospital. Fortunately, she ended up being okay.

In the movie, while Leo’s version of Jordan has taken the yacht to Italy they find out Aunt Emma has passed away. Naomi is grief-stricken, and you can tell Jordan is also sad—but for a different reason. What about the $20 million Aunt Emma has in her Swiss bank accounts for him?

This actually happened. Patricia passed away while Jordan’s money was still in her name in Swiss banks. And just like in the movie, the real Jordan convinced the boat’s captain to go through a storm in the Mediterranean Sea. And again, just like in the movie, the storm won. The Nadine sank off the coast of Italy and the passengers and crew had to be rescued by an Italian Navy helicopter.

According to the real Jordan Belfort, there was one thing the movie got wrong here, though. The helicopter on the yacht didn’t fall off on its own. They had to push it off to make room for the Italian Navy chopper to lower a commando to come rescue them.

Why was it an Italian Navy commando rescuing them? Jordan didn’t ever say.

In the movie, things started to fall apart for Jordan when he gets arrested while filming an infomercial. That didn’t really happen. Well, not during the filming of an infomercial. But Jordan did get arrested. It was FBI Special Agent Gregory Coleman who had been tracking Jordan for over six years before he finally made his move. While the movie made it seem like Jordan had met FBI Agent Denham, in truth Jordan didn’t meet the FBI agent after him until Agent Coleman showed up at Jordan’s home to arrest him.

Faced with decades in prison, Jordan is offered the chance to cooperate in the movie. And in real life, he agreed to cooperate.

In the movie, when Jordan tells Naomi he’s agreed to cooperate with the FBI in exchange for a reduced sentence, she says, “I’m happy for you.” They have sex and then she tells Jordan that’s the last time—she wants a divorce. Enraged, Jordan punches Naomi in the gut and runs to grab his daughter, Skylar, and rushes out to the car. With Naomi yelling at him, Jordan backs the car through the garage door and wrecks it.

This happened. Jordan, while high, crashed his car into a six-foot pillar at the edge of his driveway. He never admitting to gut-punching Nadine, though. But he did admit to kicking her down the stairs while he was holding their daughter. Oh, and Nadine and Jordan didn’t have just the one child. They had two children together and the couple divorced in 2005. That’s years after Jordan was indicted in 1998.

Back at the office, there’s a moment where Leo’s Jordan is wearing a wire and he walks into the office with Donnie.

While they’re chatting, Jordan passes Donnie a note that says, “Don’t incriminate yourself. I’m wearing a wire.”

In truth, Jordan passed that note for another of his friends, Dave Beall, not the character Jonah Hill’s version of Donnie was based on—Danny Porush. According to the movie, thanks to his cooperation in helping bring down some of his friends, Jordan was sentenced to 36 months, or three years, in prison and fined $110 million.

That’s true, although the movie doesn’t mention how much of that he actually served. In truth, Jordan Belfort served 22 months. As for the $110 million, that was supposed to go to the victims of his scams. And just like Jordan didn’t serve the full 36 months, he also apparently hasn’t paid the money he owes. According to a report by Brooklyn federal prosecutors that was released just before the 2013 movie hit theaters, Jordan had only paid about $11.6 million of the $110 million he was ordered to pay to the 1,513 victims identified in his 2003 court case. And $10.4 million of that was money from court-ordered property forfeiture.

Oh, and the same report indicated Jordan had made over $700,000 from the book deal for The Wolf of Wall Street, the book that the movie was based on. He wrote the book while he was in prison and after his cellmate, the comedian Tommy Chong, encouraged him to write about his crazy stories. Then he made another $125,000 from the movie producers for rights to turn the book into a movie.

But according to Jordan’s lawyers, he’s “made repeated efforts over the last two-plus years to pay 100% of the profits of the movie and the two books.” The last two years being the two years before the report came out in 2013.

So, I don’t know how Jordan’s been trying to pay but maybe the payment system for the government wasn’t working? This is a perfect example of a story where it’s one side saying one thing and another saying something else. The tricky part here is you have the government on one side and Jordan Belfort on the other. Neither one of them are known for being very honest.

In the meantime, while Jordan and the U.S. Government can’t agree on whatever it is they’re arguing over these days, the victims of Jordan’s scams aren’t seeing any of what they’ve lost while Jordan lives a life of comfort.

Jordan has replied to the accusation that he hasn’t paid his debts. In an article on the New York Daily News website, Jordan is quoted as saying, “When I saw the deadbeat accusation, I almost started crying. I can’t believe something like this is happening in America.”

Today, Jordan Belfort runs a motivational speaking company just like you see at the end of the movie. In fact, the guy who introduces Leo’s version of Jordan at the very end? That’s the real Jordan Belfort. Leonardo DiCaprio has a video testimonial in which he says, “Jordan stands as a shining example of the transformative qualities of ambition and hard work, and in that regard, he is a true motivator.” 

In the end, The Wolf of Wall Street was incredibly accurate to Jordan’s book of the same name. A lot of what was said we can only rely on the word of those who were there, people like Jordan and Danny. And since those people made their millions by lying, it’s hard to know if they’re telling the truth. Or are they just stretching the truth to get a better story and, by extension, sell more books?

Perhaps our most convincing piece of evidence comes from an interview with FBI Special Agent Gregory Coleman who told The New York Times, “I tracked this guy for ten years, and everything he wrote is true.”

Share:

Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on whatsapp
WhatsApp
Share on reddit
Reddit
Share on email
Email
Go behind the podcast

Stay updated

with the weekly newsletter

Get notified about what’s new and what’s upcoming for the podcast.

Latest episode