After hitting balls, I trail him back to his home. He drives a Mercedes SL convertible and lives in an oceanfront mini-mansion on Manhattan Beach. I follow him through the garage and up the spiral steps into an expansive living room where the doors and windows are open to the view of the Pacific and the warm breeze comes and goes just so.
“Making money is so easy,” Belfort tells me. “It really is. It’s not hard to do.”
Belfort’s actual net worth is something of a mystery. He earned more than $2 million for the books and film rights (“I thought they were fucking crazy,” he says about actually getting published), five figures for speeches he gives, along with income from investments he’s made in Australia.
“I did really well with the mining industry,” he says. “I made some hits. Iron. Ore. Stuff like that.”
But he can’t keep it all. According to a judge’s order, half of everything Belfort earns must go to the $110 million he is obligated to pay back to the more than 1,500 investors he fleeced. It’s a hefty order to fill, and according to the government Belfort has been negligent in his payments. Belfort denies he’s hiding money from the government—a skill he once perfected on Wall Street—and currently the parties are working toward a resolution. Belfort says he’s not making a nickel off his story and has signed over all proceeds and profits to the government.
“I wanted to be above reproach with the whole thing,” he tells me. “I didn’t want people to think, Oh, he’s making money on the movie, on his crime. Like, ‘I don’t want the fucking money! Keep the fricking money!’ ”
“They never even call me,” he says, sounding insulted.
Waiting for Belfort in his living room are two assistants, both of whom seem to possess his requirements for employment.
“Let’s just say Jordan has a type,” one says.
Belfort’s lair here is like a high temple of the Shiksa Goddess. He laughs off his propensity for long blonde hair, blue eyes, and buoyant bosoms.
“I’m not going to lie,” he says as we make our way onto the deck. The water is sparkling on the crashing surf in front of us, and errant sounds of a volleyball game pass in the breeze. One assistant brings out a pair of cold beers, sandwiches, and chips.
Belfort spreads out on a lounger, his sunglasses shielding his eyes.
“I always felt if I had more, then I’d feel good,” he says. “I think the more I had, the worse I felt. We all have these holes, right? The problem is, there’s some ways we plug those holes that are sustainable. Going out and fucking twenty whores every night—it was fun when I did it, but that’s not really sustainable.”
Toward the end of his first book, Belfort describes his need for validation: how he and a friend are swimming in a pool, but the friend never comes up for air. Belfort pulls the friend out of the pool and proceeds to perform mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Finally, the friend shows signs of life—by vomiting the hamburgers they were eating into Belfort’s mouth. When the medics arrive, one tells Belfort, “You’re a hero.”
“What a delicious ring those three words had,” Belfort writes. “I desperately needed to hear them again, so I said, ‘I’m sorry, I missed what you said. Could you please repeat that?’” Belfort then approaches his second wife (“with her loamy loins and brand-new breasts”) and “tried to find just the right words that would inspire her to call me a hero.”
“Unfucking believable!” he writes. “She didn’t call me a hero!”
Belfort’s business model itself seemed based around ego-boosting. Instead of hiring seasoned stockbrokers or anyone with experience, he recruited naïve twentysomethings who would adhere to his ruthless sales creed: Buy or die. To motivate these young and wealth-hungry aspirants, Belfort would arrive to work in the same white Ferrari Testarossa that Don Johnson used to drive in Miami Vice and deliver not one but two boardroom speeches to them each day.
“From a moral perspective, he was a reprehensible human being,” says Greg Coleman, the FBI special agent who made the case against Belfort. A specialist in financial frauds and money laundering, Coleman has been an agent with the Bureau for more than twenty years. “Admiration would be the wrong word, but from the perspective of manipulating the market, he’s one of the best there is,” Coleman says of Belfort. Coleman also specializes in the behavioral sciences, giving talks inside the FBI on the psychology and interior motives of criminals.