The Ass of Wall Street

By Adam L. Penenberg , written on January 13, 2014

From The News Desk

When an actor portrays someone in a movie and wins a Golden Globe or Academy Award, the expectation is that he -- or she -- will thank the person he played. For instance, Meryl Streep thanked Susan Orlean when Streep won a Golden Globe in 2003 for her role as the writer Susan Orlean in Charlie Kaufman's wacky interpretation of Orlean's "The Orchid Thief." Yet sometimes in the hubbub and nervousness of the moment, the actor will forget to acknowledge the person whose life made the movie possible. Julia Roberts received a lot of flack for snubbing Erin Brokovich when she won a best actor Oscar. (Roberts simply forgot in the excitement of the moment.)

I suspect few, though, will gripe that Leonard DiCaprio, who won Best Actor in a Comedy last night at the Golden Globes, didn't in his speech thank Jordan Belfort, "the Wolf of Wall Street," for his role in ripping off thousands of people for millions upon millions of dollars. Because the people DiCaprio should have thanked are Belfort's victims. Without them, there would have been no Wolf of Wall Street, and, therefore no movie.

Last month, Susan Antilla, in a piece for The New York Times Dealbook, told the stories of some of the people Belfort bilked out of their money. There was Peter Springsteel, an architect in Mystic, Conn., who watched half of his life savings go up in smoke; Dr. Alfred E. Vitt, a retired dentist in Heath, Tex., lost $250,000; Ken Minor, a real estate appraiser in Gilroy, Calif., received the $57,000 Belfort's minions took from him but ended up with practically nothing, although his lawyers did pretty well.

At Belfort's sentencing in 2003, he was given prison time (he served 22 months) and ordered to pay restitution to his victims to the tune of $110.4 million. According to government documents, as of this past October, Belfort has paid back about $11.6 million, most of it coming from forfeited properties.

As The Hollywood Reporter reported:

In 2007, the government learned about a deal to publish Belfort's book, The Wolf of Wall Street. Subsequently, restraining notices were served on Bantam Books, Warner Bros. and Appian Way.

A deal was soon worked out whereby Belfort would give 50 percent of those proceeds (after his agent's 15 percent commission.) He made payments between 2007 and 2009, then paid nothing in 2010, before making payments in 2011 and 2013. But the government contends that he isn't turning over enough of his income -- which includes money for motivational speaking -- and has asked the court to hold him in default. Belfort sold the film rights to his books for more than $1 million, "yet in 2011, when Belfort got nearly a million dollars for selling rights, he made just $21,000 toward restitution" and on his taxes "claimed a $24,000 deduction on his income tax."

The smooth-talking, truth-challenged Belfort, on his Facebook page last month, pledged to give victims 100 percent of the money he's made and will make from his books and the movie. "For the record: I am not making any royalties off the film or the books, and I am totally content with that," he wrote.

Prosecutors, however, say this is a lie, pointing out that Belfort, when he moved to Australia, has made it more difficult to collect on his promises for victim remuneration. Belfort's lawyers have claimed that his obligation to continue to pay victims back ended with his supervised release.

Belfort stole millions by twisting the truth and talking up stocks that were dogs. Now he's talking up his faux generosity yet, according to the government, nothing could be further from the truth.

Meanwhile DiCaprio, after he won his Golden Globe, alluded to his own hard partying past when he remarked:

Making movies is an interesting process. You put your entire life on hold. And these characters really do envelop you, for better or for worse. So, thank God none of the attributes of this character rubbed off on my real life, because I probably wouldn’t be standing here today.
Actually, Leo, you wouldn't have been standing there basking in the glow of your Golden orb award, if it hadn't been for the victims of Belfort's crimes -- people like Peter Springsteel, Dr. Alfred E. Vitt, and Ken Minor. They, and many others, still wait for restitution.

Meanwhile, the movie has raked in almost $100 million since its release 19 days ago. How about earmarking some of that money for Belfort's victims?