‘Wolf’ draws howls, hoots on Wall Street

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Posted: Monday, January 13, 2014 12:00 am

NEW YORK — Veteran stock trader Alan Valdes remembers the excesses of Wall Street during the 1990s: fat paychecks, drugs after hours and lavish spending on flashy cars.

“The Wolf of Wall Street,” Martin Scorsese’s new portrayal of the notorious fraudster Jordan Belfort and his downfall, seems to capture the industry’s wilder days, but not without Hollywood’s own embellishment, Valdes said.

“It was over-the-top,” said Valdes, who enjoyed the flick with his girlfriend at a nearly empty Manhattan theater as a snowstorm bore down on the East Coast last week. “I knew guys like that, but not that bad — that’s for sure.”

Anyone who has seen Scorsese’s cinematic portrayal of the financial industry has endured three hours of beautifully shot scenes of Long Island hucksters bilking investors, frolicking with women in the office, and snorting piles of cocaine.

Those who work on Manhattan’s trading floors and in its gilded skyscrapers have been amused, entertained and sent groaning by “The Wolf of Wall Street” since its debut on Christmas Day.

But Stratton Oakmont, Belfort’s company, was a particular breed of Wall Street animal. The company specialized in hawking penny stocks, or low-priced shares of financially suspect businesses, to unsophisticated investors. Or as Belfort, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, describes it on-screen, the job entailed “selling garbage to garbage men.”

In Wall Street parlance, Belfort’s operation was a boiler room or a bucket shop — and a far cry from major investment banks or trading shops headquartered in New York’s financial district or Manhattan.

“It was a great depiction of bucket shops when bucket shops prevailed,” said Jason Weisberg, managing director at Seaport Securities and an avid Scorsese fan who saw the movie the day it opened.

And Stratton Oakmont was particularly known for its brazen hedonism.

Peter Costa, president of Empire Executions, hasn’t yet seen the movie but knows a former Stratton Oakmont employee who vouched for the movie’s accuracy.

“He said those guys were out of control,” Costa said.

The real-life Stratton Oakmont’s excesses were documented by Gregory Coleman, the FBI agent who brought down Belfort and is portrayed in the movie by Kyle Chandler.

Most of the company’s shenanigans apparently occurred outside its offices, such as when buses ferrying brokers picked up hookers on the way to Atlantic City, N.J., Coleman said.

“There were things that went on, of course, in the bathrooms and the elevators and sometimes in the boardroom, but most of it would occur during gambling junkets or at parties,” said Coleman, who works out of the FBI’s New York office. “The bachelor parties were really where it got extremely excessive.”

Stratton Oakmont was also based on Long Island, making the film’s title something of a misnomer in the eyes of purists. The term “Wall Street” is more commonly associated with the financial titans of Manhattan — Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase & Co. and the like — where the culture is decidedly straight-laced and buttoned-down.

“It’s not a world that’s familiar to most people on what you would call ‘Wall Street,’” said one New York City hedge fund manager who saw the movie with his wife over the holidays and who declined to be quoted publicly on the subjects of drugs, sex and financial fraud.

To be sure, no one is saying that drug use has disappeared on Wall Street. But relative newcomers to finance also see little in common with the film’s depiction of their industry.

Christopher Mroz, who spent three years as an investment banker at JPMorgan but now is a day trader, found the movie amusing, long and decidedly sensationalistic.

“A lot of people want to think Wall Street is like that,” said Mroz, 32. “But I think in reality it’s a lot of nerdy guys with calculators working all night.”

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