The Wolf of Wall Street: The True Story

We sort out what’s fact and what’s fiction in Martin Scorsese's glitzy new film about a real-life scammer

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Mary Cybulski / Paramount

Drugs, prostitutes, crashed helicopters — the debauchery in The Wolf of Wall Street is so outlandish that audiences might leave the theater thinking director Martin Scorsese took plenty of creative license in telling the story of Jordan Belfort, a New York stock broker who conned his way to earning hundreds of millions in the 1990s. But Scorsese’s film closely follows Belfort’s own memoir, also titled The Wolf of Wall Street.

That said, Belfort glorifies his vulgar antics in his book, so how much of his account is truly real is up for debate. After all, Belfort was a scam artist — he made a living by lying. Scorsese, knowing this, portrays Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) as an unreliable narrator in the film (see: the changing color of the car in the first scene and the driving while high on Quaaludes episode).

TIME fact-checks the movie against Belfort’s books (he also wrote a sequel entitled Catching the Wolf of Wall Street) and a series of Forbes articles that have followed Belfort’s scheming.

Belfort’s first boss told him the keys to success were masturbation, cocaine and hookers.
Ruling: Fact

According to the book, a broker named Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey) gave him this advice early on in his career.

Belfort and his partner owned shares of a risky stock and had their brokers at Stratton Oakmont brokerage aggressively sell the stock to inflate the price. They then sold the stock themselves to turn a profit.
Ruling: Fact

Belfort and Danny Porush (called Donnie Azoff in the film and portrayed by Jonah Hill) utilized this age-old pump-and-dump scheme to get rich quick after graduating from scamming middle-class people into buying worthless penny stocks at a 50 percent commission.

Forbes magazine exposed Belfort, calling him a “twisted Robin Hood.”
Ruling: Fact

Though Belfort wasn’t on the cover, Forbes did run a profile of him in which they called him “a twisted version of Robin Hood, who robs from the rich and gives to himself and his merry band of brokers.” Though it was a scathing portrait, the promise of quick $100,000 commissions brought job applicants to Stratton Oakmont in droves.

Stratton Oakmont took Steve Madden public.
Ruling: Fact

Steve Madden did give a speech the day of the IPO, to which the Stratton Oakmont brokers responded with jeers. Madden, Belfort and Porush owned most of the stock and drove up the price. Belfort, Porush and Madden all went to jail for their scheme.

Belfort laundered his money into Swiss banks using his in-laws.
Ruling: Fact

His wife’s mother and aunt both helped smuggle the money into Switzerland.

THE WOLF OF WALL STREET

Paramount Pictures

Now for the really ridiculous stuff…

Danny Porush (Donnie Azoff) was married to his cousin.
Ruling: Fact

They’re now divorced.

The driving on Quaaludes scene.
Ruling: Mostly fact

It was a Mercedes, not a Lamborghini. But the rest is true to Belfort’s memoir.

The office parties included a “midget-tossing competition.”
Ruling: Fact

…According to Belfort.

The company billed prostitutes to the corporate card.
Ruling: Fact

…And wrote them off in their taxes.

He crashed a helicopter in his front yard while high.
Ruling: Fact

On a related note, he also did at least attempt to sober up in real life.

He sunk a yacht in Italy.
Ruling: Fact

And the yacht used to belong to Coco Chanel.

He called his trophy wife “duchess.”
Ruling: Fact

Though her name was Nadine, not Naomi.

He served a reduced prison sentence after ratting on his friends.
Ruling: Fact

Turns out Belfort was even more of a jerk than they show in the movie. In the film version, Belfort tries to save his partner from incriminating himself. In reality, Belfort ratted out his partner Porush, among others, for a reduced sentence (the two reportedly no longer speak). Belfort spent only two years in prison and had Tommy Chong (of Cheech and Chong) as his cellmate. Chong convinced Belfort to write a memoir.

He scammed only the rich.
Ruling: Fiction

Some writers have criticized Scorsese for portraying Belfort’s lifestyle as glamorous without showing the victims of his scam. Though Belfort claims in his book and in the film that he only took from the wealthy, the New York Times reports that many small business owners are still trying to recover financially from Belfort’s scheme. (The government claims Belfort has failed to pay his restitution, and reports suggest that Porush is still running get-rich-quick schemes.)

103 comments
J2015
J2015

This guy's a loser. Big time. In his interviews, he looks remorseful though. Like a man who's done too much drugs and a little time. I think ppl should really be wondering if he's going to be paying the 120 million he owes. We should all sign a petition to get him extradited to the States until he pays his fine. Sheesh

kina1241
kina1241

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jdrewkelly
jdrewkelly

The only fiction you point to is that the movie says he scammed only the rich? The movie doesn't say that at all. Do you even know what you are talking about?

CarlaDatu
CarlaDatu

the truths doesnt make so much sense. deteriorating.

erness
erness

And to think all the revenues he got from the box office of this movie, his book surely increased sales after this, not to mention the attention and the glorification from all critics and multiple award shows' recognitions. 22 months in jail in exchange of all, incredible.

M.Zoabi
M.Zoabi

very very interesting , and extremely helpful . I did walk out of the theatre thinking like " nah , this couldn't have happened for real ", and now I know the truth , thanks to you .

McRoy
McRoy

what about this? he seduced his wife's aunt, was that true?

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ChadSommer

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RohitGupta
RohitGupta

Fact checking against Belfort’s memoir makes sense because he has always been a paragon of honesty. </sarcasm>

AnthonyD.
AnthonyD.

@RohitGupta It wasn't just fact-checked against his memoir. Big incidents such as the sinking of the boat (which did happen) can be checked in news archives and police reports. Some of the things we'll never know without asking people who were there (like the midget-tossing) but a good deal of it can be fact-checked with reliable sources. The truth is often ugly, though, so it isn't surprising that people would rather dismiss it than face it.

friendsaid
friendsaid

@AnthonyD.@RohitGuptaWhere did you read that this was "fact-checked' to more than just his memoir and those forbes articles?  No where does it say it was.  A good deal can be fact-checked but this did not appear to be done here. This is not fact-checking but rather verification of consistency between the movie and the books and Forbes articles. With undocumented events such as most of these are they will always remain speculative and not fact.

Cybdiver
Cybdiver

I'm not sure why everyone is so surprised by the truth.

xiaodre
xiaodre

Even though people get in trouble all the time for saying never, I'm going to go out on a limb.  Nobody can shut down Wall Street.  It can never happen.

Anonymous7777
Anonymous7777

Just one more reason to shut down Wall Street. We don't need it, it hurts everyone in the long run and it feeds despicable character traits across the board. Legalized gambling is all it is and the 'house' always wins. Time to shut it down and let real work equal real success.

JordonBelfort
JordonBelfort

Spoken like a true loser... America was built on the concept of making easy money through profiteering.

Simply buy something for $10 then sell it to someone else for $100 is the way to make real money. Hard work is for suckers and losers. Ebay selling is a great example of how to make easy money. Working at a job and earning a Bum paycheck will never get you anywhere.

By the way, I'm not the real jordon belfort. I just like the name... Ha ha

msmedetres`
msmedetres`

This article does not tell you what really happened at Stratton Oakmont.For the real story read Master of the Straight Line due to be released in several weeks.

SteveMendel
SteveMendel

I thought he was a really cool guy, lots of fun, until he beats up his wife. At that point he turned into a pathetic little boy. You could feel the mood of the entire theatre change at that point.

motmaitre
motmaitre

@SteveMendel I guess you missed the part where she hit him first? She slapped him, he punched her. before that, she was shown repeatedly assaulting him by throwing water in his face.


But of course, these days domestic violence is okay as long as it's women hitting men. A man hits back, and he's a brute. That's sexism- against men. I'ma man and I take exception to the fact that I'm somehow worth less than a woman. Why is it okay for a woman to hit me, but not for me to hit her?


Equality is just that- equality. If a man hit him, he has the right to retaliate in self-defense. Any woman who assaults anybody deserves to be hit in retaliation. You can't give someone a blank cheque to go around hitting people just because they're female.

LindaSm87182426
LindaSm87182426

@motmaitreOh come on. You are just a creep. Don't make an excuse for cowardly behavior. I'm much larger than a toddler but yet I'd never deck them because it wouldn't be a fair fight.  I'd barely feel whatever a toddler did to me. Calling water thrown in your face an assault is a stretch and you know it. You are just looking fro an excuse to brutalize a woman or you aren't man enough to control your emotions.

equiusss
equiusss

@Carthen @LindaSm87182426 Ok, Since we've gone politically correct and Anonymous777, Linda and Carthen have justified women hitting men as being acceptable ... let me make it clear, assault is assault, regardless of who commits it.  No feminist (sexist) argument will change a FACT.  Assault is assault regardless of who does it.  Equating "equality" with retaliation is misguided - but the sentiment is right.  You don't make two sets of rules for different groups (eg. men and women).


Also, don't underestimate how destructive "mental abuse" can be.  Any implication that "mental abuse" is ok (or not as bad, or justifiable) is sheer ignorance.


Society has to stop accepting double standards - whether they be from one of society's most sexist groups (ie. feminists) or anyone else (eg. chauvinists).  Take a stand - and let's truly push for gender equality.  It means denouncing feminism AND chauvinism, but that's a good thing.  If you see someone who openly declares themself as feminist or chauvinist, remind them they are a sexist pig.

ridgebriar
ridgebriar

@SteveMendel 

Unfortunately, that is what psychopaths like Belfort do. They charm and manipulate their intended targets with no remorse ... but many times violence is also a part of their dysfunctional lifestyle.

Anonymous7777
Anonymous7777

@motmaitre Being "equal" and being the "same" are two different things. A woman's strength and a man's strength aren't even close to being equal or the same, so a woman hitting a man isn't going to do much to him. However, the reverse can be devastating and that's why men should never hit women. If she's going off on him, he can restrain her or walk/run away. But whatever the reason for the violence, a man should NEVER hit first or hit back...it's NEVER equal or the same. Learn how to differentiate.

WilliamFairfax
WilliamFairfax

I agree with you SteveMendel. When he hit his wife the mood in the theater changed drastically to disapproval and disappointment. There were even a few gasps. Ruined the film for me.

WilliamFairfax
WilliamFairfax

In addition to what Anonymous 777 and Linda sm said, which I agree with completely-- it is simply naive to believe that size and/or strength differential should not be taken into account. Also there is nothing equal about a woman's slap to a man's hit. "Equal" action with unequal force is not equality. You sound very immature and whiney. Retaliation is never advisable. And there's nothing lower than hitting/using force against someone weaker. Men should never hit a woman. You seem very bitter and angry. If being a man is too much of a burden to you perhaps you should get an operation and fix your problem.

Eagle1
Eagle1

@motmaitre  does a slap equal a punch? does a splash of water equal a punch?


verbal abuse and slapping and throwing water,etc is wrong.. but a punch is assault.


WilliamFairfax
WilliamFairfax

The stance that you should never hit someone weaker is not sexism. I firmly believe that a man should never hit a woman. But before you wimpy little mamasboys get your panties twisted, i also believe a woman should never hit an elderly citizen or child or disabled person. You and your buddy @motmaitre sure have a chip on your shoulders. Nobody's against you but wrong is wrong. A stronger person hitting a weaker person will always be worse than the other way around. In response to calling it a double standard, it's naive and illogical to think that strength should not be taken into consideration.

tw645
tw645

@motmaitre Obvious that you are nothing more than a woman abuser with such an absurd comment. It's right up there with the pedophile trying to justify that playing with little children was an acceptable practice in ancient Rome.


You see comments like you made will only will feel right to the "deranged" whereas the sain will see it as complete bull.

AdamStevenson
AdamStevenson

The MOVIE EXPLICITLY SHOWS HIM SCAMMING REGULAR, MIDDLE-CLASS INVESTORS AS WELL. Apparently the person who wrote this article hasn't SEEN THE MOVIE. Why would you set up a straw man to knock it down, as this writer did? Oh, right. CLICKS.

drkoelper
drkoelper

@AdamStevenson: Perhaps if you re-read the article, you might find the part that says, "[Belfort and Porush] utilized this age-old pump-and-dump scheme to get rich quick after graduating from scamming middle-class people into buying worthless penny stocks at a 50 percent commission."

VoxyBrown
VoxyBrown

Don't be naive. Yeah, clicks.

Where do you think you are? This is journalism.

BuckNekid
BuckNekid

If success comes from masturbation, cocaine, and hookers, I should be the richest man on the planet.

JohnBuchanan
JohnBuchanan

@BuckNekidI don't have a lot of money, but based on that formula, I've been rich since I came of age... nice to know.

pseawrightb
pseawrightb

Martin Scorsese hasn't made a good movie since Goodfellas.

StevenTanner
StevenTanner

@pseawrightb Goodfellas is among his masterpieces, but he's made some other spectacular films.  "Wolf" was good, in my opinion, and "the Departed" was brilliant.

motmaitre
motmaitre

@pseawrightb agreed. And even Goodfellas wasn't perfect. the ending sequence was too long, jarred with ther est of the movie and came off as a little silly.


Scorcese has a way of ruining his own movies with his bizarre indulgences. Gangs of New York could have been a masterpiece, but he had to ruin it with implausible plot points and bad casting (Dicaprio was terrible miscast as a tough gangster- and he killed Bill the Buther? yeah, right.)


Cape Fear was pretty good, and Hugo was what it set out to be, charming. Wolf of Wall Street, which I saw two days ago, was a disaster. Too long, no real plot, repetitive and boring. It was just a series of wild scenes stiched together with no real pacing or story development. I got so bored I had to take a timeout while watching it. 


It annoys me that this sloppy, overlong montage is being hailed as a masterpiece. I was disappointed.

drkoelper
drkoelper

@pseawrightb: Yeah, right. "The Departed" only won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 2006, with Scorsese also taking the Oscar for Best Director. And "Hugo" was only the recipient of eleven Oscar nominations last year.