MIAMI BEACH, Fla. Jordan Belfort lazed by the pool on a sunny April morning, sipping Red Bull and sharing a cautionary tale. Not the usual about being imprisonment on 10 counts of securities fraud and money laundering: this time he was the victim. Last fall, he explained to a group of businessmen gathered at his palatial home that a hacker had stolen $300,000 worth of digital tokens from his cryptocurrency wallet.
He’d gotten the bad news over dinner on a Friday, he said, telling a venture capitalist friend about the time he sank his yacht during a drug-fuelled romp in the mid-1990s. After breaking into Mr Belfort’s account, the hacker has large amounts of Ohm, a popular cryptocurrency token, to a separate wallet – a publicly visible transaction that Mr. Belfort could do nothing about. “You can see where the money is,” he said. “It’s the most frustrating thing.”
Mr. Belfort, 59, is best known for “The Wolf of Wall Street,” a telltale memoir about his debauched 1990s career in finance, which director Martin Scorsese adapted into a 2013 film starring Leonardo DiCaprio as the hard partying protagonist. Today, the real Mr. Belfort is a consultant and sales coach, charging tens of thousands of dollars for private sessions.
This month, at his Miami Beach home, he hosted nine blockchain enthusiasts and entrepreneurs for a weekend-long crypto workshop — a chance to hang out with the Wolf and enjoy a “intimate financial experience” with his friends from the crypto industry.
A long line of celebrities have tried to capitalize on the cryptocurrency boom, appearing in widely mocked crypto commercials or flogging non-replaceable tokens, the unique digital collectibles known as NFTs. Mr Belfort said he has refused to take part in the worst shilling. He has turned down offers to launch a line of Wolf-themed NFTs, although “I could easily make $10 million.”
He is also a recent convert away from crypto-skepticism. Not long ago he shot a Youtube video about the dangers of Bitcoin, which he called “damned madness” and “mass madness”. Over the years, he said, he gradually changed his mind as he learned more about cryptocurrencies and prices skyrocketed.
Now Mr. Belfort is an investor in a handful of start-ups, including a new NFT platform and a animal theme crypto project that he said is “trying to take the dog-and-pet ecosystem and put it on the blockchain.”
Whatever his crypto bona fide, Mr. Belfort is undoubtedly qualified to discuss the topic of financial fraud, a major problem in the digital asset industry. In the 1990s, the company he founded, Stratton Oakmont, operated a sophisticated stock manipulation scheme† At the height of their wealth, he and his business associates consumed vast amounts of cocaine and quaaludes and regularly employed prostitutes. Mr Belfort ended up serving 22 months in prison.
Given that history, it can feel a little surreal to hear an older, more gray-haired Mr Belfort proclaim that he’s “hugely looking forward to regulation” in the crypto industry. “I’m not interested in separating people from their money,” he said. “That’s the opposite of how I trade now.”
Still, the crypto workshop at his home wasn’t free: Guests paid one Bitcoin for a seat, or the cash equivalent, which is about $40,000.
The workshop started on Saturday at 9:00 am. The guests—chosen from a pool of more than 600 applicants—walked around Mr. Belfort, ate omelettes made to order and exchanged tips on Bitcoin mining and tokenomics† A crypto miner from Kazakhstan relaxed in the sun with an ambitious blockchain influencer who runs a roofing company in Idaho. A Florida businessman explained his plan to use NFTs in a start-up he’s pitching for music as Tinder. Some of the guests said they paid for the workshop because they are die-hard fans of the Wolf; others just wanted to network with fellow entrepreneurs.
At 9:15 am the mimosas were flowing, but Mr Belfort was nowhere to be seen. “The US dollar is going to shit,” said roofer Doug Bartlett. A few minutes passed. Still no wolf. “The Wolf is still asleep?” one guest wondered aloud.
Finally Mr. Belfort came out of the house, wearing faded jeans and dark sunglasses. Mr. Belfort has short dark hair; he’s more wrinkled than he was in the 90s, but his face is still in a perpetual boyish grin. He stopped on the steps down from the porch to survey the scene: nine men dressed in various shades of business casual: polo shirts, thongs, unbuttoned shirts with buttons. “I think we still need to work on female cryptocurrency adoption,” he said. “Next year we should get some girls here.” He paused. “Ladies.”
Someone handed Mr. Belfort a can of Red Bull. (It was about 9:30 a.m.) “I need the sugar,” he said. After a few minutes of chatter, he led the group into the dining room, where each seat at the table was covered with a notebook and a copy of “Way of the Wolf,” a sales manual Mr. Belfort published in 2017.
mr. Belfort has spent the past two decades trying to rebuild his reputation, but signs of the old Wolf were everywhere. Behind his spot at the head of the table, a well-stocked drinks shelf took up most of the wall. (He hasn’t gotten high in 25 years, he said, but he drinks sometimes.) Next to the shelf hung a poster designed to resemble an entry on the periodic table — Qu for quaalude — listing various “drug facts,” including ‘ best sex ever.”
After an introductory round, Mr. Belfort began a talk on the details of cryptocurrencies, from the differences between Bitcoin and Ethereum to the emergence of decentralized autonomous organizations. He shared his wisdom on crypto-based “smart contract” systems (“some are really smart; some are stupid”) and told old stories about his association with Leo and Marty.
“Leo had never used drugs,” he said. “I had to instruct him on that.”
For a gathering of crypto evangelists, it was striking how much time everyone spent reliving their greatest losses. Nearly half of the group said they had been hacked. One guest said he lost money when the cryptocurrency exchange Mount Gox collapsed in 2014. Two others said they had burned large amounts of tokens in risky trades.
A guide to cryptocurrencies
The energy in the room increased with the arrival of Chase Hero, one of the guest speakers Mr. Belfort had recruited for the weekend. Mr. Hero, a crypto investor and gaming enthusiast, stated that stablecoins – cryptocurrencies whose value is pegged to the US dollar – are “the greatest innovation since sliced bread”.
“It seems lively and insane and almost borders on a Ponzi scheme,” said Mr. Hero on his favorite stablecoin project. “That makes it the perfect asset to cryptocurrency, because that’s what these kids love.”
One of Mr Belfort’s guests, Svein-Erik Nilsen, a Norwegian entrepreneur, began to describe his own business ambitions. Did Mr Hero have any tips? The key to starting a new venture, he replied, is aggressive marketing. “Imagine going to a Brazilian beach and trying to find a single hot girl. There are eight million of them,” Mr. Hero said. “The idea is the same here. You have to do stupid, stupid marketing to get it out there.” bring.”
A few hours later, the group went out for dinner at Carbone, an upscale Italian restaurant in Miami Beach, where Mr. Belfort eats as many as twice a week. As they dined on caviar and rigatoni, some guests shared tales of their own debauchery; Mr. Belfort, it turned out, wasn’t the only wolf in the room. Two guys discussed the mechanics of chasing younger women without risking getting caught up in a “sugar baby” situation. Someone speculated on how an enterprising strip club owner might integrate NFTs into the business.
Soon the conversation turned to a club in Japan where women would jump around with octopuses. Mr. Belfort wanted to know more: Were the women in Japan beautiful? He later showed the group an iPhone video he shot in an S-and-M themed bar where the waitresses are beating the customers.
Artem Bespaloff, the chief executive of the crypto mining company Asic Jungle, leaned over the table to describe his personal conversion to the way of the Wolf. He was planning to study medicine, he said, when he found a copy of “The Wolf of Wall Street” in the library.
“I said, ‘This is what I want to do,’” recalled Mr. Bespaloff. “In the end I stole the book from the library.”
“So I was a good influence,” said Mr. Belfort, laughing. Still, he said he regrets his behavior at the time — it was wrong, and he could have gotten richer if he hadn’t broken the law. “I missed the internet boom,” he said. “I would have made 100x more money.”
“Well,” replied Mr. Bespaloff, “you’re in crypto now.”
“You live and learn,” said Mr Belfort.