After The Oscars: How Would The Wolf Of Wall Street Be Sentenced In 2014?

Posted On Friday, March 7, 2014

Now that the Oscars are over, the red carpet has been rolled up and the post-Oscar parties will end in a few hours.  Although the Wolf of Wall Street, the film, did not win any Oscars, the question on everyone’s mind is how would the Wolf of Wall Street, Jordan Belfort, be sentenced in 2014?  Well perhaps that’s not exactly true although it is interesting to consider how Belfort, who was sentenced in 2003, would be sentenced in 2014 for the “pump and dump” stock scheme highlighted in the movie.

On July 18, 2003, Jordan Belfort was sentenced in the Eastern District of New York to 42 months imprisonment after pleading guilty to 11 counts ranging from securities fraud to money laundering.  Factoring in the $200 million fraud that involved over 1,500 victims, the guidelines called for a sentence of over 20 years in prison.  However, U.S. District Court Judge John Gleeson had discretion to sentence below the guideline range due to Belfort’s cooperation against his co-conspirators.  The court would have considered the value of Belfort’s cooperation particularly because, as the ringleader, Belfort provided information regarding the scheme’s key players as well as access to critical documents.

Undoubtedly, in the years since 2003, there have been several significant changes to the U. S. sentencing guidelines as well as significant judicial decisions applying the guidelines.  For example, the Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Booker in 2005 “clarified” the message – a message that that no other federal court had previously received – that the sentencing guidelines were not mandatory.  Several years later, in 2009, the Supreme Court’s decision in Nelson v. United States held that a trial court’s calculated guideline range is not presumptively reasonable.  That said, the guidelines played a minor role in Belfort’s sentence, given that he received a sentence far below the calculated guideline range.

When Jordan Belfort was sentenced in 2003, defendants charged with securities fraud who were registered brokers, dealers, and investment advisors were not subject to a four-level enhancement applicable today.  When Belfort was sentenced, only officers of publicly-traded companies could receive an additional four levels for securities fraud.  Such an enhancement would have likely increased Belfort’s sentence given that the four-level enhancement alone, which equates to 43 months, is comparable to the sentence which Mr. Belfort ultimately received, 42 months.  

The preceding ten years have also seen a greater emphasis on an offense’s impact on the victims, a consideration contemplated in many of the sentencing guidelines.  As a result, many courts today are reluctant to give relatively short sentences to defendants pleading guilty to fraud involving hundreds of millions of dollars and affecting thousands of people.  Nevertheless, a judge sentencing Jordan Belfort in 2014 would have the same obligations to consider the sentencing guidelines, the value of Belfort’s cooperation, and the factors in 18 U.S.C § 3553.  However, considering that sentences handed down in recent years in similar fraud cases are greater than 42 months, many of which involve smaller loss amounts than the $200 million in Belfort’s case, the Wolf of Wall Street would likely be sentenced 10 years or more.