MIAMI BEACH, Fla. — Jordan Belfort sat poolside on a sunny April morning, sipping Red Bull and sharing a cautionary tale. Not the usual one about his arrest on ten counts of securities fraud and money laundering: this time he’d been the victim. Last fall, he told a group of businesspeople gathered at his palatial home that a hacker had stolen $300,000 worth of digital tokens from his cryptocurrency wallet.
He got the bad news over dinner on a Friday, he said, while telling a venture capitalist friend about sinking his yacht during a drug spree in the mid-1990s. After breaking into Mr. Belfort’s account, the hacker transferred large amounts of Ohm, a popular cryptocurrency token, to a separate wallet — a publicly visible transaction that Mr. Belfort was unable to reverse. “You can see where the money is,” he said. “That’s the most frustrating thing.”
Mr. Belfort, 59, is best known for “The Wolf of Wall Street,” a telltale memoir about his lavish career in 1990s high finance, which director Martin Scorsese adapted into a 2013 film starring Leonardo DiCaprio as hard partygoer transformed protagonist. Today, the real Mr. Belfort is a consultant and sales trainer charging tens of thousands of dollars for private sessions.
This month he hosted nine blockchain enthusiasts and entrepreneurs at his Miami Beach home for a week-long crypto workshop – an opportunity to hang with the wolf and enjoy an “intimate financial experience” with his crypto industry friends.
A long line of celebrities have attempted to cash in on the cryptocurrency boom by appearing in widely derided crypto commercials or flogging non-fungible tokens, the unique digital collectibles known as NFTs. Mr Belfort said he refused to participate in the worst shilling. He has turned down offers to launch a line of wolf-themed NFTs, he said, although “I could easily make $10 million.”
He’s also a recent convert away from crypto skepticism. Not long ago, he made a YouTube video about the dangers of bitcoin, which he called “fucking 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 startups, including a new NFT platform and an animal-themed crypto project that he said is “trying to take the dog-and-pet ecosystem and put it on the blockchain bring to. ”
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, Stratton Oakmont, which he founded, ran a sophisticated stock manipulation program. At the height of their wealth, he and his business partners used cocaine and quaaludes in enormous quantities, and regularly employed prostitutes. Mr Belfort ended up serving 22 months in prison.
Given that history, it can feel slightly surreal to hear an older, grayer-haired Mr. Belfort announce that he’s “extremely excited about 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 now.”
Still, the crypto workshop at his home wasn’t free: guests paid one bitcoin for a seat or the cash equivalent, which is roughly $40,000.
The workshop started at 9 am on Saturday. The guests — selected from a pool of more than 600 applicants — strolled through Mr. Belfort’s backyard, eating made-to-order omelettes and exchanging tips on bitcoin mining and tokenomics. A crypto miner from Kazakhstan was relaxing in the sun with an aspiring blockchain influencer who runs a roofing company in Idaho. A Florida businessman explained his plan to use NFTs in a startup he’s pitching as Tinder for music. Some of the guests said they paid for the workshop because they were die-hard fans of the wolf; others simply wanted to network with other entrepreneurs.
At 9:15 the mimosas were flowing but Mr. Belfort was nowhere to be seen. “The US dollar is going to suck,” said roofer Doug Bartlett. A few minutes passed. Still no wolf. “The wolf is still sleeping?” asked a guest 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 still wears a forever boyish grin. On the stairs down from the porch, he paused to watch the scene: nine men in various shades of business casual—polo shirts, flip-flops, button-down shirts open. “I think we still have work to do on female cryptocurrency adoption,” he said. “We need to get some girls over here next year.” He stopped. “Woman.”
Someone handed Mr. Belfort a can of Red Bull. (It was about 9:30 am) “I need the sugar,” he said. After a few minutes of chatter, he ushered the group into the dining room, where each seat at the table was set with a notebook and a copy of Way of the Wolf, a sales manual published in 2017.
Mr. Belfort has spent the last two decades rebuilding his reputation, but 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 was a poster meant to resemble an entry on the periodic table — Qu for Quaalude — that listed various “drug facts” underneath it “best sex ever.”
After an introductory session, Mr. Belfort started with a talk on the ins and outs of cryptocurrencies, from the differences between Bitcoin and Ethereum to the rise of decentralized autonomous organizations. He shared his knowledge of crypto-based “smart contract” systems (“some of them are really smart, some of them are stupid”) and shared old stories about his collaborations with Leo and Marty.
“Leo had never done drugs,” he said. “I had to explain that to him.”
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 deals.
A guide to cryptocurrency
The energy in the room lifted with the arrival of Chase Hero, one of a series of 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 biggest innovation since sliced bread.”
“It seems lively and crazy, bordering on a Ponzi scheme,” Mr. Hero said of his favorite stablecoin project. “That makes it the perfect cryptocurrency asset 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 business, he replied, is aggressive marketing. “Imagine going to a Brazilian beach and trying to find one hottie. It’s eight million,’ said Mr. Hero. “The idea is the same here. You have to do stupid, stupid marketing to get it out there.”
A few hours later, the group adjourned to dinner at Carbone, a top Italian restaurant in Miami Beach where Mr. Belfort dines up to twice a week. As they ate caviar and rigatoni, some of the guests told tales of their own debauchery; As it turned out, Mr. Belfort wasn’t the only wolf in the room. Two guests discussed the mechanics of pursuing younger women without the risk of getting caught up in a “sugar baby” situation. Someone speculated on how an enterprising strip club owner might incorporate NFTs into his business.
Soon the conversation turned to a club in Japan where women are said to cavort with squid. Mr. Belfort wanted to know more: Were the women in Japan beautiful? He later showed the group an iPhone video he took at an S and M themed bar, where waitresses whipped customers.
Artem Bespaloff, CEO of crypto mining company Asic Jungle, leaned across the table to describe his personal conversion to the Way of the Wolf. He said he was planning to study medicine after finding a copy of The Wolf of Wall Street in the library.
“I said, ‘That’s what I want to do,'” recalled Mr. Bespaloff. “I ended up stealing the book from the library.”
“So I had a good influence,” said Mr. Belfort, laughing. Still, he said, he regretted his behavior at the time — it was wrong, and he could have gotten even 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 are in crypto now.”
“You live and learn,” said Mr. Belfort.