Justice Department officials are targeting money paid to Jordan Belfort in connection to The Wolf of Wall Street.
Unsealed documents filed in October in the 15-year-old criminal prosecution of the former stockbroker, played by Leonardo DiCaprio in the Martin Scorsese film, detail exactly what was earned by Belfort in selling rights to the film.
An inquiry was triggered after retired Newsday reporter Susan Harrigan wrote a letter to a New York judge who oversaw the case. She reported working as a freelancer on a story for CNN about The Wolf of Wall Street money, and she wanted to know whether Belfort’s profits from the film and two books would go toward restitution of Stratton Oakmont victims.
Belfort served 22 months in prison for securities violations. As part of his 2003 sentencing, he was ordered to pay $110.4 million to victims. In October, federal prosecutors revealed that Belfort had only paid $11.6 million.
There’s now a dispute over continued payments. The U.S. government contends that Belfort needs to continue to pay restitution at the rate of 50 percent of his gross income. But according to prosecutors, Belfort argues that he is no longer obligated to comply with a payment plan because his supervised release has terminated.
The fight over Belfort‘s income has been going on for some time.
In 2007, the government learned about a deal to publish Belfort’s book, The Wolf of Wall Street. Subsequently, restraining notices were served on Bantam Books, Warner Bros. and Appian Way.
A deal was soon worked out whereby Belfort would give 50 percent of those proceeds (after his agent’s 15 percent commission.) He made payments between 2007 and 2009, then paid nothing in 2010, before making payments in 2011 and 2013. But the government contends that he isn’t turning over enough of his income — which includes money for motivational speaking — and has asked the court to hold him in default.
According to the government’s documents, Red Granite Productions purchased film rights to The Wolf of Wall Street for $1.045 million. Of that amount, Belfort received $940,500. In addition, Belfort got $125,000 when Scorsese began shooting the film and another $125,000 when the film hit theaters last month. Yet in 2011, when Belfort got nearly a million dollars for selling rights, he made just $21,000 toward restitution.
“I am not making any royalties off the film or the books, and I am totally content with that,” Belfort wrote on his Facebook page on December 29. “My income comes from new life, which is far better than my old one.”
Belfort added that “millions of dollars” in proceeds from his books and the film would “hopefully be more than enough to pay back anyone who is still out there.”
His attorney tells The Wall Street Journal that Belfort has made all necessary restitution payments, including book and movie royalties.
Robert Nardoza, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, responded to the paper. According to Nardoza, “Belfort’s making these claims, and they’re not factual. He’s in Australia and using that loophole to avoid paying.”
The Hollywood Reporter recently revealed that Belfort is shopping a reality TV series. If he lands one, it could trigger a fresh new fight over whether half of that income goes to victims of his old crimes.