Organized Crime Experts Share Experiences with University Community
Gregory Coleman, the retired FBI agent who brought down the “Wolf of Wall Street,” is one of several experts to “visit” the University of New Haven community virtually this semester, offering their insights and expertise to students. Other speakers include a former Mafia Capo and one of the most successful undercover agents in FBI history.
April 20, 2021
By Renee Chmiel, Office of Marketing and Communications
Ryan Decker ’22 recently had the opportunity to interact with a leading investigator – one whose success on a famous case captured the attention of the nation, the media, and Hollywood.
A criminal justice major, Decker has been serving as a co-producer of "Crime Waves with Declan Hill," a podcast about organized crime, investigation, and corruption. His work on the podcast has enabled him to talk with leading experts, including, most recently, Gregory Coleman, a retired FBI agent who helped bring down Jordan Belfort – better known as the “Wolf of Wall Street.”
“I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to speak to one of the best investigators of our time,” said Decker. “One of my favorite parts of working on the podcast is being able to listen to people who have tackled and solved firsthand some of the toughest cases. I love to hear stories from our speakers’ perspectives.”
Coleman, who dedicated his 25-year career to investigating financial crimes in New York, will be featured in an upcoming episode of “Crime Waves.” In his interview with Dr. Hill, Coleman discussed his work on the case extensively. He described selling stocks as a gray area, of sorts, since it is sometimes – though not always – done illegally. He explained how Belfort and his associates bought and sold stocks in what’s known as a “pump and dump” scheme – an operation that fell on the wrong side of the law.
“I knew it would be a fun case based on the kind of lifestyle Jordan was living and the reputation he had,” said Coleman. “He was very flashy, and that persona was already out there in 1992. I had no idea it would be as big as it turned out to be.”
'A fantastic insight for our students'
Coleman is one of several speakers to discuss organized crime with the University community this month. Dr. Hill, a former journalist and one of the world’s foremost experts on match fixing and corruption in international sports, is bringing in some of his many contacts from his investigations work.
"I believe it is so valuable for students to interact with and listen to speakers because they have the real-world experience that many of us dream of having one day."Ryan Decker ’22
Next up will be Michael Franzese, the former Mafia Capo in the Colombo crime family and match-fixer, who will discuss sports corruption and the legalization of sports gambling. The keynote speaker for the second annual sports integrity presentation at the University, he will speak via Zoom on Wednesday, April 21, at 5 p.m.
Joe Pistone – a.k.a. Donnie Brasco – who is among the most successful undercover agents in FBI history, will also soon be featured on Crime Waves. Pistone, who infiltrated the Bonanno crime family in New York during the 1970s, was instrumental in devastating the mob. He will speak to Dr. Hill on April 30, at 11 a.m. in an interview for Crime Waves, and he will discuss his career and most memorable undercover investigations. Pistone’s story is depicted in the film Donnie Brasco, in which he is portrayed by Johnny Depp. The University community is invited to attend both events.
"It’s an honor to be able to talk to investigators such as Greg Coleman and Joe Pistone – men who literally risked their lives in their investigations," said Dr. Hill. "It’s also a fantastic insight for our students to see how the real world works."
'A very good time in history to apply to the FBI'
While interviewing Coleman, Dr. Hill asked him about how he solved the case, and they discussed the importance of the interview. Belfort began by identifying individuals to interview – something he did face to face whenever possible. Interviewing people at their homes enabled him to learn more about them from observing their home environment and who they interacted with while reading their body language, he explained.
“You need to be inquisitive, genuinely inquisitive,” he continued. “Listening is also a very important skill. I can listen for hours if I need to. It’s hard to listen in great detail, and there are nuances. If there’s one skill you should develop, it’s listening.”
Viewing Belfort and his henchmen as being a suit of armor, Coleman endeavored to find the crack. He did just that, and Belfort, who cooperated with the FBI, was charged. In exchange for a plea deal, he served nearly two years in prison, and he is now an author and motivational speaker. His memoirs inspired the film The Wolf of Wall Street, which starred Leonardo DiCaprio.
Coleman, an anti-money laundering expert and public speaker, also discussed the film with Dr. Hill. Coleman reviewed the parts of the script that included his character, played by Kyle Chandler, and he describes the movie as about 75 percent accurate.
Discussing the scene in which his character confronts Belfort on a yacht, Coleman says he explained to Chandler what he would have done in such a situation, as he never did confront Belfort on a yacht as depicted. Chandler improvised his part based on their conversation, and Coleman describes it as one of the best scenes in the movie.
'The real-world experience that many of us dream of having'
Coleman, who assisted with many other major investigations during his career, including 9/11, offered advice to students at the University who are interested in following in his footsteps. He says the FBI hires employees of diverse backgrounds and fields of study.
“I was a finance major,” he said. “I worked with individuals who were social workers, bankers, and police officers. I encourage students to look into it. This is a very good time in history to apply to the FBI. They’re smart, creative people, and they love what they do.”
Decker, the criminal justice major, hopes to earn his master’s degree in white-collar investigations. He says interacting with Coleman was a valuable experience, and he looks forward to learning from Franzese and Pistone as well.
"I believe it is so valuable for students to interact with and listen to speakers because they have the real-world experience that many of us dream of having one day," said Decker. "Hearing from them not only helps to answer our questions but also motivates us to work even harder to be in the position that they are in. Taking the time to learn from professionals and their tips can make a world of difference in our future."
The University community is invited to attend the upcoming events with Franzese and Pistone. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org to register.