Business

The Wolf of Crypto

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. — Jordan Belfort was lounging by the pool on a sunny April morning, sipping Red Bull and sharing a cautionary tale. Not the usual one about his imprisonment on 10 counts of securities fraud and money laundering: This time, he’d been the victim. Last fall, he explained to a group of businessmen gathered at his palatial home, a hacker had stolen $300,000 of digital tokens from his cryptocurrency wallet.

He had gotten the bad news at dinner on a Friday, he said, while he was telling a venture-capitalist friend about the time he sank his yacht during a drug-fueled romp in the mid-90s. After breaking into Mr. Belfort’s account, the hacker transferred large quantities of Ohm, a popular cryptocurrency token, to a separate wallet — a publicly visible transaction Mr. Belfort could do nothing to reverse. “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 tell-all memoir about his debauched 1990s career in high finance, which the director Martin Scorsese adapted into a 2013 movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio as the hard-partying protagonist. These days, the real-life Mr. Belfort is a consultant and sales coach, charging tens of thousands of dollars for private sessions.

This month, at his house in Miami Beach, he hosted nine blockchain enthusiasts and entrepreneurs for a weekend-long crypto workshop — a chance to hang out with the Wolf and enjoy an “intimate financial experience” with his crypto-industry friends.

Tony Evans, center, sharing his business plan at Mr. Belfort’s workshop.Credit…Scott McIntyre for The New York Times

A long line of celebrities has tried to profit from the cryptocurrency boom, appearing in widely mocked crypto commercials or flogging nonfungible tokens, the unique digital collectibles known as NFTs. Mr. Belfort said he has refused to participate in the worst of the shilling. He has declined offers to launch a line 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 long ago, he shot a YouTube video about the dangers of Bitcoin, which he called “frickin’ insanity” and “mass delusion.” 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 an animal-themed crypto project that he said is “trying to take the dog-and-pet ecosystem and put it onto the blockchain.”

Whatever his crypto bona fides, Mr. Belfort is unquestionably qualified to discuss the subject of financial fraud, a major problem in the digital-asset industry. In the 1990s, the firm he founded, Stratton Oakmont, operated a sophisticated stock-manipulation scheme. At the height of their wealth, he and his business partners consumed enormous quantities of cocaine and quaaludes and regularly employed prostitutes. Mr. Belfort eventually served 22 months in prison.

Given that history, it can feel slightly surreal to hear an older, more grizzled Mr. Belfort proclaim that he is “massively 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 act right now.”

Still, the crypto workshop at his house was not free: Guests paid one Bitcoin for a seat, or the cash equivalent, which is roughly $40,000.

The workshop began at 9 a.m. on Saturday. The guests — chosen from a pool of more than 600 applicants — milled around Mr. Belfort’s backyard, eating made-to-order omelets and trading tips about Bitcoin mining and tokenomics. A crypto miner from Kazakhstan relaxed 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 start-up that he’s pitching as Tinder for music. Some of the guests said they paid for the workshop because they are die-hard fans of the Wolf; others simply wanted to network with fellow entrepreneurs.

By 9:15 a.m., the mimosas were flowing, but Mr. Belfort was nowhere to be seen. “The U.S. dollar is going to crap,” said the roofing executive, Doug Bartlett. A few minutes passed. Still no Wolf. “The Wolf is still sleeping?” one guest wondered aloud.

All nine of the workshop guests were men. “I guess we still need to work on feminine adoption of cryptocurrency,” Mr. Belfort said. Credit…Scott McIntyre for The New York Times

At last, Mr. Belfort emerged from 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 set in a perpetually boyish grin. He stopped on the staircase down from the porch to survey the scene: nine men dressed in various shades of business casual — polo shirts, flip-flops, untucked button-down shirts. “I guess we still need to work on feminine adoption of cryptocurrency,” he said. “We got to get some girls here next year.” He paused. “Women.”

Someone handed Mr. Belfort a can of Red Bull. (It was about 9:30 a.m.) “I’m gonna need the sugar,” he said. After a few minutes of chitchat, he ushered the group into the dining room, where each place at the table was set with a notebook and a copy of “Way of the Wolf,” a sales manual Mr. Belfort published in 2017.

Copies of Mr. Belfort’s book “Way of the Wolf” are lying about his house.Credit…Scott McIntyre for The New York Times
Among the liquor bottles, a wolf’s head.Credit…Scott McIntyre for The New York Times

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 fully stocked liquor shelf took up most of the wall. (He hasn’t gotten high in 25 years, he said, but he sometimes drinks.) 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 a round of introductions, Mr. Belfort began a lecture on the minutiae 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 of them are stupid”) and recounted old stories about his collaboration with Leo and Marty.

Many of the guests compared notes on something they had in common: big crypto losses.Credit…Scott McIntyre for The New York Times

“Leo had

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