A high-stakes journey that began in Bay Terrace

By Greater Astoria Historical Society

In conjunction with the Greater Astoria Historical Society, the TimesLedger newspaper presents noteworthy events in the borough’s history.

Former stockbroker, author and motivational speaker Jordan Belfort is best known for his portrayal by Leonardo DiCaprio in the 2013 Hollywood film “The Wolf of Wall Street.” Born on July 9, 1962, Belfort was raised in a middle-class, Jewish family in Bay Terrace. After showing an aggressive sales acumen in his early years, he began his meteoric rise in the financial industry soon after college, eventually becoming the chairman of the now-defunct brokerage Stratton Oakmont. He became fabulously wealthy and notorious for an extravagant lifestyle fueled by drug addiction and a masculine sell-hard, play-harder corporate culture, but his empire came crashing down in 1996 when his firm closed its doors and Belfort was later jailed for securities fraud and money laundering.

Following graduation from American University in Washington, DC, Belfort worked as a door-to-door meat and fish salesman on Long Island before filing for bankruptcy at age 25. Never one to be daunted by financial and career setbacks, the hard-charging salesman parlayed family connections into a stockbroker training program at L.F. Rothschild, only to once again lose his job after the Black Friday stock market crash of 1987.

The origins of Stratton Oakmont are disputed; Belfort claims he founded the company with a group of friends, while others claim they bought out the original owner. Either way, the Wolf of Wall Street soon built the largest over-the-counter firm in the country through high-pressure sales tactics and initial public offerings, including one for shoe retailer Steve Madden. Stratton staff worked by the motto “Don’t hang up until the customer buys or dies.”

On the top of his game, Belfort led a fast-paced, party lifestyle of wild excess driven by an addiction to quaaludes. While high on drugs, he nearly crashed his private helicopter on the lawn of his Old Brookville mansion. In another narcotic-induced haze, he sank his 167-foot yacht Nadine, named for his second wife, in a storm in the Mediterranean and was rescued by the Italian Navy.

His meteoric rise, however, soon gave way to an even more precipitous fall. The firm came under scrutiny from the National Association of Securities Dealers and government regulators. The authorities alleged that Belfort was running a boiler room operation pushing penny stocks of questionable actual value and engaging in “pump-and-dump” sales to unsuspecting clients. Stratton Oakmont was shut down in 1996, and the emperor without a kingdom served a 22-month reduced prison sentence in exchange for testimony against former business partners and subordinates who participated in his schemes.

While in prison, Belfort shared a prison cell with comedian Tommy Chong, of Cheech & Chong fame. His famous cellmate encouraged the former stockbroker to write about his experiences, which led to his “The Wolf of Wall Street” memoir and the Hollywood hit of the same name. Following his release from jail, he settled near Los Angeles, where he works as a motivational speaker and sales trainer. He will pay $10,000 a month in restitution to the people he defrauded for the rest of his life.

Leonardo DiCaprio’s portrayal of the rise and fall of a man from Queens catapulted Jordan Belfort to fame and notoriety nationwide. At the end of “The Wolf of Wall Street,” a movie blockbuster that grossed $392 million in theaters worldwide, the credits roll to a catchy, light yet deeply reflective Allen Toussaint jazz instrumental titled “Cast Your Fate to the Wind.”

Notable quote: “ Without action, the best intentions in the world are nothing more than that: intentions.”

For further information, call the Greater Astoria Historical Society at 718-278-0700 or visit our website at www.astorialic.org.

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