By far the most talked about film of the year so far has been The Wolf of Wall Street, based on the best-selling memoirs of Jordan Belfort. But while Belfort claims his tale is a cautionary one, federal prosecutors claim he hasn’t really learned his lesson and is continuing to cheat his investors. Whether or not this is true is still a matter for the courts to decide, but it’s still something criminal lawyer Peter M. Liss believes people should know about the movie.
Ordinarily when people are convicted of the number of federal fraud charges that Jordan Belfort faced (to be specific, 27 charges of securities fraud and money laundering), they’d be lucky if they got out in twenty years. But Mr. Belfort only received a four-year sentence and was able to get out on parole after serving two years in prison. To put things in perspective, Bernie Madoff was charged with 11 counts and sentenced to 150 years in prison.
The reason Belfort was able to receive such a light sentence is because he worked with the FBI to help identify and testify against his associates. Part of his plea bargain involved Belfort paying of 50% of his earnings for the first three years of his probationary release and keep paying victims until he returns the $110 million he owed his investors -not a bad deal ultimately.
But according to prosecutors, Belfort hasn’t exactly been jumping at the bit to pay back those he bilked so long ago. In fact, while he’s paid $243,000 over the last four years and surrendered $10 million in assets, he has earned nearly $1.8 million. The government even had to file subpeonas and restraining notices on Bantam Books, Warner Brothers and Appian Way in 2007, in order to learn more about Belfort’s income from his book and movie deals and to collect income from them.
Meanwhile, Belfort says that he has repeatedly offered to give 100% of proceeds from his book and movie back to his investors, though the prosecution says this has not happened. They also point out that all the money from the books and film will still not be enough to pay off the remaining $100 million he owes investors.
While Belfort cannot be imprisoned for failing to pay back his restitution fines after his probationary period and will only be subject to wage garnishments and other civil penalties, he could be sent back to prison if the court finds he did not pay the 50% of his income he was ordered to pay for his first three years of supervised release from prison. If he was not earning enough to survive on an income cut in half, his attorneys could defend his underpayment, but the fact that Belfort made $1.8 million since his release means that he could survive on $900,000 earned over the course of four years and this defense would be a losing strategy.
While the prosecutors and Belfort’s lawyers are working to arrange an agreement on the issue, it’s possible that the inspiration for the most popular movie our right now will end up back in prison by this time next year.
Remember, if you are having trouble meeting the requirements of your probation or parole, Peter Liss can help you work within the system to revise the restrictions you are facing before you break the rules. If you have any questions, please call (760) 643-4050 or(858) 486-3024 to schedule a free initial consultation.
Creative Commons Image by Sigfrid Lundberg