HONG KONG (Reuters) - Jordan Belfort, a former trader who ended up in jail in the 1990s for defrauding investors out of millions of dollars, is now an author and motivational speaker, with a movie about him starring Leonardo DiCaprio set to start filming soon.
Yet even with his memoir “The Wolf of Wall Street” gaining fresh attention after Kweku Adoboli was arrested last month for alleged rogue trading that may have cost Swiss banking giant UBS $2.3 billion, Belfort maintains his life should, above all else, be taken as a cautionary tale.
“The best lesson of everything about my story ... is that it sort of represents the best of what you can do with the gifts that gods give you and also the worst you can do also with the frailties that gods give you,” the 49-year-old Belfort told Reuters.
Arrested after defrauding investors of as much as $200 million via his brokerage firm Stratton Oakmont, Belfort lived a hard-partying lifestyle in the 90s, accompanied by serious drug addiction, before his arrest and 22 months in a federal prison camp.
“Am I proud of that now? A father of two, who lives my life in an honest, ethical way — no, I’m not proud of that. But I wrote the truth of what happened and how my life spiraled out of control,” he said in an interview in Hong Kong, ahead of a speaking tour.
“I came from a poor family, (was) making $50 million a year by 25 years old. I started playing out every adolescent fantasy I had and I got hooked on drugs, made some bad decisions, and I paid the price for that - went to jail.”
His 2007 memoir chronicled a lifestyle that included signing off on a midget tossing event and taking turns having sex with a female subordinate, along with lurid, drug-induced scenes that sparked the interest of Hollywood.
“Now if you want to read the book and say that’s really cool, he went out and partied like a rock star and you want to emulate that, yes, then you’re probably going to end up where I did — in jail,” Belfort said.
The interest from Hollywood was so great that, Belfort said, the manuscript of his story sparked interest from both Brad Pitt and DiCaprio, setting off a bidding war that culminated in Martin Scorsese coming aboard to direct.
The film will go into production in the next few months and be shot in New York and Switzerland.
Belfort said he hoped the film would show how one ethical lapse could lead to another until everything blew up, a lesson he hoped could prevent further losses for financial institutions around the world.
“It doesn’t happen overnight, you don’t lose your soul or you don’t become corrupt. Like the first time, it’s the tiny, imperceptible step,” he said.
“Next time, further still and further still ... and before you know it, through these tiny, almost imperceptible steps you are doing things you never thought you’d do, it all seems perfectly okay.”
Additional reporting by Andy Ho and Sally Chan; Editing by Elaine Lies and Idayu Suparto