The Book, The Movie — The 'Wolf of Wall Street'
Coming soon — well, maybe not that soon — to a theater near you: The story of a depraved, drug-addicted stock swindler. And the story is true.
The author is Jordan Belfort, the story is his, and Random House announced earlier this year that director Martin Scorsese had obtained the film rights; Leonardo DiCaprio was lined up to star; and the writing firepower would come straight from "The Sopranos."
The title is "The Wolf of Wall Street," based on Belfort's just-released book. It's one of the nicknames he remembers getting as the superintendent of one of the most notorious "boiler rooms" that pumped up stocks in the 1990s.
Belfort's brokerage firm, Stratton Oakmont, sold nearly worthless shares to thousands of victims. The investors lost at least a quarter of a billion dollars.
How did a nice guy from Queens turn into a white-collar felon?
"Complete insanity fueled by drugs, greed, crossing over the line of what's right and wrong in tiny, imperceptible steps, until one day you turn around and you're so far over the line, everything seems normal," he told CNBC.
"Normal" was a mansion on New York's Long Island — a house he bought from former New York Stock Exchange chairman Richard Grasso — a house he recalls not being grand enough.
"I remember saying, 'The driveway's not long enough. Maybe we should move to a more stately driveway,'" he said.
"Normal" was prostitutes and parties. It was drugs: Quaaludes, cocaine, morphine — spinning through his system even while he was flying his helicopter.
"I was a cult leader, as insane as it sounds," he said. "It was our own value system independent of society, you know, what was right and wrong. And mostly, the difference between right and wrong was getting caught."
Eventually, Stratton Oakmont caught the eye of FBI Special Agent Gregory Coleman.
"It was the sort of flashiness, the brashness of their activities," Coleman said. "The blatantness of the way they were soliciting people, and cold-calling people. And the number of victims that were complaining on a daily basis."
Joel Cohen was the federal prosecutor who got Belfort indicted for "stock fraud in every flavor and type and variety that he could think of."
"He would constantly reevaluate ways to make more money," Cohen said. "He was incredibly inventive."
"I played the game of crime very carefully for many, many years and covered my tracks with zest and zeal," he said.
Some of those tracks led to Switzerland. A Swiss banker arrested in an unrelated case offered to testify against Belfort in exchange for leniency. In 2003, Belfort was sentemced to four years in prison and ordered to pay more than $100 million in restitution.
He's out now, and so is his book. But the movie? One movie industry database says it's scheduled for release in 2010, but it's not on the list of current commitments for the director or the actor.