In 1987, Jordan Belfort procures a job as a Wall Street stockbroker for L.F. Rothschild, employed under Mark Hanna, who quickly entices him with the sex- and drugs-fueled stockbroker culture and passes on his idea that a stockbroker’s only goal is to make money for himself. Jordan soon finds his career terminated following Black Monday, the largest one day stock market drop in history, and takes a job at a boiler room brokerage firm on Long Island that specializes in penny stocks. Thanks to his aggressive pitching style and the high commissions, Jordan makes a small fortune.
Jordan befriends his neighbor, Donnie Azoff, and the two found their own company. They recruit several of Jordan’s friends, whom Jordan trains in the art of the “hard sell.” Belfort’s tactics and salesmanship largely contributed to the success of his pump and dump scheme which involves inflating the price of a stock through issuing misleading, positive statements in order to sell it at an artificially augmented price. When the perpetrators of the scheme sell their overvalued securities, the price drops immensely and those who were conned into buying at the inflated price lose a significant amount of money. To cloak this, Jordan gives the firm the respectable-sounding name of Stratton Oakmont in 1989. After an exposé in Forbes, hundreds of ambitious young financiers flock to his company. Jordan becomes immensely successful and slides into a decadent lifestyle of prostitutes and drugs. He has an affair with a woman named Naomi Lapaglia. When his wife finds out, Jordan divorces her and marries Naomi in 1991. Meanwhile, the SEC and the FBI begin investigating Stratton Oakmont. In 1993, Jordan illegally makes $22 million in three hours upon securing the IPO of Steve Madden. This brings him and his firm further to the attention of the FBI. To hide his money, Jordan opens a Swiss bank account with corrupt banker Jean-Jacques Saurel in the name of Naomi’s Aunt Emma, who is a British national and thus outside the reach of American authorities. He uses the wife and in-laws of his friend Brad Bodnick, who have European passports, to smuggle the cash into Switzerland.
Donnie gets into a public brawl with Brad, and, while Donnie escapes, Brad is arrested. Brad does not say a word about Donnie or Jordan to the police. Jordan learns from his private investigator that the FBI is wiretapping his phones. Fearing for his son, Jordan’s father advises him to leave Stratton Oakmont and lie low while Jordan’s lawyer negotiates a deal to keep him out of prison. Jordan, however, cannot bear to quit and talks himself into staying in the middle of his farewell speech. In 1996, Jordan, Donnie, and their wives are on a yacht trip to Italy when they learn that Aunt Emma has died of a heart attack. Jordan decides to travel to Switzerland immediately to settle the bank account. To bypass border controls, he orders his yacht captain to sail to Monaco, but the ship is capsized in a storm. After their rescue, the plane sent to take them to Geneva is destroyed when a seagull flies into the engine. Jordan takes this as a sign from God and decides to sober up.
Two years later, the FBI arrests Jordan because Saurel, arrested in Florida on an unrelated charge, has informed the FBI on Jordan. Since the evidence against him is overwhelming, Jordan agrees to gather evidence on his colleagues in exchange for leniency. Naomi tells Jordan she is divorcing him and wants full custody of their children. They get into a full-fledged argument with Jordan striking Naomi and snorting cocaine hidden in the couch cushions, and he tries to get into his car with their daughter but crashes into a brick pillar while pulling out of the garage. Later on, Jordan wears a wire to work but slips a note to Donnie warning him. Donnie keeps the note and rats out Jordan to the FBI. Jordan is arrested for breaching his co-operation deal. The FBI raids and shuts down Stratton Oakmont. Despite the breach, Jordan receives a reduced sentence of 36 months in a minimum security prison for his testimony and would be released after serving 22 months. After his release, Jordan makes a living hosting seminars on sales technique.