On a plane earlier this week, I watched The Wolf of Wall Street. The film’s outsized antics—public masturbation, the tossing of little people, lots and lots of Quaaludes—seemed too big for a seatback screen, or, for that matter, reality. As despicable as some of Jordan Belfort’s behavior was, I was able to occasionally laugh at Leonardo DiCaprio's version of him knowing that, by now, more than 10 years after his real-life sentencing, Belfort has been sufficiently punished.
But in fact, that’s hardly the case: After pleading guilty to fraud and money laundering, Belfort was ordered in 2003 to pay out about $110 million to those he wronged. Since then, he’s only paid $11.8 million. He was also sentenced to four years in federal prison, but he only ended up serving just shy of two years.
Meanwhile, he’s thriving as a motivational speaker, and has made some money from selling the film rights to his life story. In a testimonial for his speaking services, Leonardo DiCaprio called Belfort “a shining example of the transformative qualities of ambition and hard work.”
Belfort’s relatively consequence-free story is only one of the more prominent ones in a parade of aggravating numbers reported on earlier this week by The Wall Street Journal. There’s still $97 billion out there in penalties that the Justice Department has failed to recover, and between September 2012 and September 2013, the department collected only 22 percent of penalties doled out. One particularly demoralizing figure was that the Commodity Futures Trading Commission had collected about a tenth of a percent of the $3.7 billion owed to wronged investors.