I watched Boiler Room (2000) for the first time shortly after concluding a successful Group II Undercover Operation I had been working for a few years. Although the 16 companies I had under investigation were selling industrial supplies in their boiler rooms instead of stocks, the aggressive phone pitches and tricky tactics used to get unsuspecting customers to make a purchase were similar. The movie always brings back good memories from my case. It’s become one of my favorite films featuring how an FBI fraud investigation is developed.
Here’s the IMDb story summary:
A college dropout, attempting to live up to his father’s high standards, gets a job as a broker for a suburban investment firm, which puts him on the fast track to success. But the job might not be as legitimate as it first appeared to be.
Boiler Room is a fictionalized version of the story of Jordan Belfort and his investment company, Stratton Oakmont, portrayed in The Wolf of Wall Street. In Boiler Room, JT Marlin is the name of the fraudulent “pump and dump” brokerage firm. I enjoyed this introspective tale of redemption much more than the tale of debauchery and conspicuous consumption starring Leonardo DiCaprio as Belfort.
The movie adequately explains how to select and develop a cooperating witness. The FBI agent investigating the securities fraud case determines that Seth Davis (played by Giovanni Ribisi) would be the stock broker trainee to approach to work with the FBI. Seth has more to leverage, to include his illegal home-based casino, his new girlfriend (played by the lovely Nia Long) and his rocky relationship with his father, the judge. Actually, he has his own misgivings about the firm’s activities, which motivate him to cooperate, perhaps more than the offer of immunity.
I would have liked the FBI subplot to have played a more prominent part in the movie. The agent’s time working with Seth is short and the intelligence he provides is limited. Most likely, this is because of the film’s time constraints. At the time of the raid on the securities firm, the FBI instructs Seth to download company files onto a floppy disk. (Remember those?) I’m sure that scene was used to add tension to the plot. However, if that data wasn’t part of his normal work product, in real life it could be deemed inadmissible. That’s the type of evidence the raid and search warrant are supposed to gather. Otherwise, I believe the portrayal of the FBI characters and procedures were accurate.
Boiler Room is well-written and -acted and I highly recommend it. I viewed it on Showtime, but it’s streaming on various services. Watch the trailer here.
I interviewed one of the “boiler room” cooperating subjects from my Group II Undercover Operation on Episode 044: Karl LNU – Cooperating Witness, Telemarketing Fraud. His story about his family legacy of fraud is absolutely fascinating. If you haven’t yet listened to the case review, I suggest you do. It’s a good one. You might also want to check out my interview with the case agent who investigated the Stratton Oakmont case, Episode 107: Greg Coleman – Wolf of Wall Street, Jordan Belfort.