MIAMI BEACH, Fla. — Jordan Belfort was lounging poolside on a sunny April morning, sipping Red Bull and sharing an uplifting story. Not the usual about his imprisonment for 10 counts of securities fraud and money laundering: this time he had been the victim. Last fall, he told a group of businessmen gathered at his lavish home, a hacker stole $300,000 worth of digital tokens from his cryptocurrency wallet.
He had learned the bad news over dinner on a Friday, he said, as he told a venture capitalist friend of the time he had sunk his yacht during a drug-fueled adventure in the mid-1990s. After breaking into Belfort’s account, the hacker transferred large amounts of ohms, a popular cryptocurrency token, to a separate wallet – a publicly visible transaction that Belfort could do nothing about to reverse. “You can see where the money is,” he said. “It’s the most frustrating thing.”
Belfort, 59, is best known for “The Wolf of Wall Street,” a revealing memoir of his debauched career in 1990s high finance, which director Martin Scorsese adapted into a 2013 film starring Leonardo DiCaprio as as the protagonist of the party. These days, the real 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 have an “intimate financial experience” with his friends in the crypto industry.
A long line of celebrities have attempted to cash in on the cryptocurrency boom, appearing in widely mocked crypto advertisements or flogging non-fungible tokens, the unique digital collectibles known as NFTs. Belfort said he refused to participate in the worst of the shilling. He declined offers to launch a range of Wolf-themed NFTs, he said, even though “I could easily make $10 million.”
He is also a recent convert away from crypto-skepticism. Not so long ago, he shot a YouTube video about the dangers of bitcoin, which he called “damn madness” and “mass delirium”. Over the years, he said, he gradually changed his mind as he learned more about cryptocurrencies and prices skyrocketed.
Now Belfort is an investor in a handful of startups, including a new NFT platform and an animal-themed crypto project that he says is “trying to take the ecosystem of dogs and pets and to put it on the blockchain”.
Regardless of his good faith in crypto, Belfort is unquestionably qualified to tackle the subject of financial fraud, a major problem in the digital asset industry. In the 1990s, the company he founded, Stratton Oakmont, implemented a sophisticated inventory manipulation scheme. At the height of their wealth, he and his associates used huge amounts of cocaine and quaaludes and regularly employed prostitutes. Belfort eventually served 22 months in prison.
Given this history, it might seem slightly surreal to hear an older, grizzled Belfort proclaim that he is “looking forward to regulation” in the crypto industry. “I’m not interested in separating people from their money,” he said. “It’s the opposite of how I’m acting right now.”
Still, the crypto workshop at his house wasn’t free: Guests paid one bitcoin for a seat, or the cash equivalent, or around $40,000.
The workshop started on Saturday at 9 a.m. The guests – chosen from a group of more than 600 applicants – moved around Belfort’s backyard, eating made-to-order omelettes and swapping tips on bitcoin mining and tokenomics. A crypto miner from Kazakhstan chilled out in the sun with an aspiring blockchain influencer who runs a roofing business in Idaho. A Florida businessman has explained his plans to use NFTs in a startup he touts as Tinder for Music. Some of the guests said they paid for the workshop because they were die-hard Wolf fans; others simply wanted to network with other entrepreneurs.
Belfort has spent the past two decades trying to rebuild its reputation, but the signs of the old wolf were everywhere. Behind his place at the head of the table, a fully stocked liquor rack took up most of the wall. (He hasn’t gotten high in 25 years, he said, but he does drink sometimes.) Next to the shelf hung a poster designed to look like an entry in the periodic table — Qu for quaalude — listing various “drug facts”, including “the best sex ever.”
After a series of introductions, Belfort began a lecture on the details of cryptocurrencies, from the differences between bitcoin and ethereum to the rise of decentralized autonomous organizations. He shared his wisdom on crypto-based “smart contract” systems (“some of them are really smart, some are dumb”) and told old stories about working with DiCaprio and Scorsese.
“Leo had never done drugs,” he said. “I had to educate him on that.”
For a gathering of crypto evangelists, it was striking how much time each spent reliving their biggest losses. Almost half of the group said they had been hacked. One guest said he lost money when cryptocurrency exchange Mt. Gox collapsed in 2014. Two others said they burned large amounts of tokens in risky trades.
The energy in the room increased with the arrival of Chase Hero, one of the guest speakers Belfort had recruited for the weekend. A crypto investor and gaming enthusiast, Hero said stablecoins — cryptocurrencies pegged to the US dollar — are “the biggest innovation since sliced bread.”
A few hours later, the group adjourns for dinner at Carbone, an upscale Italian restaurant in Miami Beach where Belfort eats up to twice a week. As they dined on caviar and rigatoni, some of the guests shared stories of their own debauchery; Belfort, it turned out, wasn’t the only wolf in the room. Two guests discussed mechanisms for pursuing younger women without risking becoming entangled in a “sugar baby” situation. Someone speculated on how an enterprising strip club owner could incorporate NFTs into the business.
Artem Bespaloff, the CEO of crypto mining company Asic Jungle, leaned across the table to describe his personal conversion to the Way of the Wolf. He was planning to go to medical school, he said, when he found a copy of “The Wolf of Wall Street” in the library.
“I said, ‘That’s what I want to do,'” Bespaloff recalled. “I ended up stealing the book from the library.”
“So I was a good influence,” Belfort said with a laugh. Still, he says, he regrets his behavior back then – it was wrong, and he could have gotten even richer had he not broken the law. “I missed the internet boom,” he said. “I would have made 100 times more money.”
“Well,” Bespaloff replied, “you’re into crypto now.”
“You live and learn,” Belfort said.
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©2019 New York Times News Service
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Forbes India – Cryptocurrency, NFT: From The Wolf Of Wall Street To A So-called Crypto Wolf
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