Hundreds of people (mostly men) packed the house at the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan's Upper East Side to see the real-life "Wolf of Wall Street," Jordan Belfort.
Belfort is the author of a best-selling tell-all memoir that chronicled his boozy, drug-fueled, high-flying Wall Street lifestyle running 1990s-era boiler room Stratton Oakmont. The convicted felon’s book was adapted into a film directed by Martin Scorsese starring Leonardo DiCaprio. Belfort was arrested in 1998. In 2003, he was convicted for securities fraud and money laundering. He served a 22-month prison sentence after being sentenced to four years. He was also ordered to pay $110.4 million in restitution to victims of Stratton Oakmont's. He hasn't finished paying them back yet, either.
Wednesday night's "Trial & Error" program at the Y was co-produced by NYU Law's Forum on Law, Culture & Society. In addition to Belfort, the panel featured former federal prosecutor Daniel Alonso and CNBC anchor Kelly Evans. The program was produced by attorney Joel Seidemann. He's a former assistant district attorney in New York. His LinkedIn profile says he now works at JPMorgan Chase.
Seidemann gave a train wreck of an introduction. It really set the tone for the evening, which was uncomfortable. First, he joked that there wouldn't be any "scantily clad girls" at the event. "It's just going to be stimulation from the neck up." He also threw in a Casey Anthony and O.J. Simpson joke.
"We never had a defendant who was actually convicted. It's not for lack of trying. ... I did invite Casey Anthony, but she was looking for Zanny the Nanny. We did invite O.J., but he wouldn't leave his gated community in Nevada."
It gets worse ...
Then, he introduced CNBC anchor Kelly Evans. It was awkward: He said something along the lines of "We need a fox on this panel of wolves."
There was some laughter and some boos from the audience. "Sexissssst huh-huh-huh," the guy in the suit next to me said. "It's not easy for anyone to be associated with the word 'fox,'" Seidemann went on rambling something about Fox News.
Evans, 29, is the star anchor at CNBC. She's incredibly smart and commands the respect of the biggest names on the Street with her coverage of economics and the financial markets. We reached out to Seidemann on Thursday morning for comment about his introduction of Evans. He did not respond at the time of publication.
Professor Thane Rosenbaum, who was the forum's director and panel's moderator, reached out to apologize, even though the comments didn't come from him. "I'm really sorry about all of it. I surely would not have invited Kelly for the forum to have her offended. It was very hard to sit on stage and watch that. I was truly sorry." Evans had no comment when Business Insider reached out. Despite the cringeworthy intro, Evans handled herself with incredible poise throughout the entire panel.
The panel began with Belfort saying it was "strange" for him to be at the 92nd Street Y, especially because he wasn't being paid. "Listen, you know, it's kind of a strange situation for me to be here. You know, I go around the world and I'm a speaker and I teach people entrepreneurship, sales, and that sort of stuff for a living. And, so, um I know I'm going to subject myself to a lot of I guess border-line abuse here. Start very quickly. It's very negative here ... "
"Well, you weren't called a 'fox,' " Rosenbaum, the panel moderator, said referring to the intro for Evans.
Belfort, who slouched in his seat, complained that he wasn't being paid for this appearance. "I have to say that I have to sit here and listen to this when I'm not getting paid is pretty tough," Belfort said as the audience began laughing.
Belfort is currently on a global speaking tour, which has been dubbed the "Redemption Tour." He estimated earlier this year that he thought he could make more than $100 million.
"In my heart, I've redeemed myself," he said. "I live my life in a way in which I am very proud of. I do the right thing every day. I give massive value to my business. I pay a lot more than you said. Your numbers are wildly inaccurate."
"Let's talk ..." Rosenbaum said.
Belfort didn't want to get into the numbers. "Honestly, I can't talk about my finances. I came here to answer questions that were really relevant to the crime, OK? It's a waste of time, I think, OK? So frankly ... but your numbers are grossly inaccurate," Belfort fired back.
"Let's talk about those numbers. It's important to talk about those numbers," Rosenbaum said.
Evans said that she was worried about "the next Jordan Belfort."
"There's somebody somewhere who is thinking this is going to be great material one day," she said.
Belfort said people should realize that the actions portrayed in the film were bad and not something they should follow. "If you're in this audience and you can't go to see The Wolf of Wall Street and realize that that's bad, then there's something wrong with you. You are fundamentally screwed up. It's obvious," Belfort said. Belfort said that he idolized Gordon Gekko's character in Oliver Stone's Wall Street. He said that had perhaps Gekko fallen, then he would have felt differently. "At least in The Wolf of Wall Street, I lose everything. My life is destroyed. I go to jail," Belfort said.
Evans didn't buy Belfort's argument of his story being a cautionary tale. "I don't think your story is a movie—we're living this story right now. I don't think there are many people who look at 'poor Jordan Belfort' and think, 'Wow, this is a cautionary tale.' He sold out the 92nd Street Y! He's going on a 45-city tour and he's got a TV series that he's ... what?" Evans said.
Belfort insisted that people like his redemption story. "I did that because I turned my life around over the last year. I'm not out committing crimes right now. People want to believe in redemption stories," Belfort said, adding that the way he lives his life now gives people hope.
Evans wasn't buying it. "The reason why people press you on your finances is because there's not a real sense that this is a redemption story. There's a sense that this is a story of, 'Wow, look at this thing I did, the time that I served, but I turned it around now and now I'm telling you about it and ..." Evans said.
"People don't press me; journalists do," Belfort fired back to laughter and applause. Evans pointed out that was "selling that story successfully."
"Should I sell it unsuccessfully?" he said, to more laughs and applause.
Later in the discussion, Evans made a reference to Timothy 6:10, where the Bible says "the love of money is the root of all evil." Belfort responded: "This idea of money as the root of evil is ridiculous. Money is like alcohol. If you're an a--hole, it makes you a bigger a--hole." Belfort added that he liked making money. He also said that he didn't think he should live his life like a monk despite his actions in the past.
See also: Wall Street’s Brazil Tour de Farce