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on June 17, 2003
If you've ever received an insistent telephone call for an investment opportunity that is guaranteed to make you a lot of money from someone you do not know at a brokerage firm that sounds, well, impressive if not familiar, you will want to read this book. The bucket shops and chop houses that employed cold-call cowboys pitching plausible, fraudulent, can't miss ground floor opportunities to the gullible, the greedy, and the insecure were not just a toxic waste product of the last bull market. An internet search of SEC Litigation Releases shows that greed and naivete are (surprise, surprise) in evidence today. Nonetheless, penny stock peddler Louis Pasciuto's rapid rise and fall on this crooked avenue of Wall Street does say something about the past decade's willingness to believe impossible things.
Some of this territory has been visited in fiction (BOILER ROOM, New Line Cinema, 2000), but author Gary Weiss' true account of Pasciuto's world has it all: cash, sex, drugs, gambling, violence, humor. Did I say cash? Louis and his barely out of school buddies were pulling in a hundred, sometimes two hundred thousand dollars a month in the 1990's peddling dreams and phony hopes. Weiss is at home writing about this hard-boiled, street smart world. He captures the dialogue, the profanity, the ironies, and the simple money lust energy that drives it all. He gets inside the relationship between Louis and Charlie Riccotone, a violent, small-time extortionist with a slippery veneer, who comes to represent the Mob's influence in this world as he worms his way into Louis' life. Made for television scenes standout: Raucous teams of telephone pitchmen selling 'hot' new stocks; Louis and friend Buddy on sex and drug benders; a broker thrown through a plate glass window; a party boat adventure that goes badly wrong; Louis hiding his stripper girlfriend from his soon-to-be-his-wife sweetheart; and tense sit-downs with Guys of a certain reputation to arbitrate disputes.
In recent years the securities regulatory environment has gotten tougher, the press more investigatory, the public more suspicious. At the end of this fast-paced story corrupt enterprises go out of business, and people go to jail. A lot of people: Bad Guys, a mentor, and friends. Pasciuto's cooperation with the Feds lands him in the federal witness protection program. Where this young man goes from here, Weiss can only guess. It has been quite a ride and Weiss does his readers a service by taking them back all the wiser from this enlightening descent into the muck.
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on September 18, 2004
I have read just about every book that there is on organized crime, and I have also read my share of Wall Street books. Let me tell you, this one is right up there with the very best of the Mob genre--Wise Guys and the Valachi Papers--but with a searing wit that reminds me of Liar's Poker.

I bought this book after seeing its subject, Lou Pasciuto, featured on the ABC News show 20/20. Let me tell you, the story was if anything better than I had expected from watching that show. This is a really outstanding, superbly written book about a young kid from Staten Island who becomes an moneymaker for the Mob on Wall Street.

I read it on one sitting. This book grabs you in the beginning, when Pasciuto is sitting in prison, mulling over the shambles of his life. The book then reverts to a flashback in the best film noir style, recounting his early upbringing in a shabby but honest family. He was constantly the subject of attention as a small boy, and perhaps because of that incipient narcissism he became a thief at an early age--hence the title.

We follow Pasciuto in his first job, at a very well known boiler room called Hanover Sterling. This brings me to another aspect of the book that I think needs to be mentioned. Unlike the few other books that have explored the shady side of Wall Street, this book names names. We get the actual bad guys and the names of the actual brokerage houses. That gives this book an authority and credibility that adds to the excitement.

After Hanover, Pasciuto rises very rapidly and is running his own crews of brokers while still a teenager--before he can go into a bar and drink, as the author Weiss points out. He makes thousands of dollars a week and his life is a whirl of sex, drugs and trips to South Beach.

Along the way he becomes the favorite broker for sports figures and cast members of the Howard Stern Show, particularly "Stuttering John," who was really in with that crowd.

But then he meets his nemesis, a crude gangster named Charlie, and it his downfall begins. Louis is married to his girlfriend, in a wedding scene straight from the Godfather, and it is downhill from there.

Along the way he meets a who's who of characters from the Mob, from half-assed wiseguys in Staten Island to doddering old fools like Sonny Franzese. That this where this book really shines. It is the best portrayal of the present-day Mob--the Mob of today, not the 1990s--that I have been able to get my hands on.

The tale of Louis' rise and fall is filled with humor, excitement and tragedy, and it is told in a humorous and accessible fashion that is really a pleasure to read.
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VINE VOICEon December 19, 2003
I'm in the investment business but this book amazed even me. This is a story of a Staten Island teenager who signs on at a chop shop set up to bilk customers of their money. While poorly educated, Louis Pasciuto finds he has a knack for selling and can easily talk these people in to investing with him. But since this is a scam where the brokers make massive money and the customers lose, it's hardly investing at all.
Giving an uneducated 20-year-old massive money is dangerous. As he doesn't trust banks, he develops a better use of him money, spend it. Spend it on toys, women, trips, and drugs until eventually his monthly living expenses are so high he has money troubles that end with a mafia guy entering his life for a monthly taste. Now that's a whole other problem.
Louis Pasciuto's personal history is a perfect overlay for a demonstration of how the mafia infiltrated the investment business. Stories of mafia guys coming in and slapping their brokers around for money are unsettling at best. As always, this doesn't end happily.
I strongly recommend this book for an entertaining educational read of what can go wrong in the investment world. For further info on this subject, see the DVD, Boiler Room with Ben Affleck for another perspective of this 1990s phonemen. Although starting a little slow, once you are engaged in reading this book you cannot put it down.
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on July 9, 2003
I was just going to skim this book because I wasn't sure I was interested in the topic. Before I knew it, I was more than half-way through it. This compellingly readable expose of Wall Street and the role of the Mafia is shuddering. The naivete of the "hicks" who bought non-existent or worthless stocks is a real eye-opener. I wonder now if the incredible rise of the stock market in the late 90's was all a myth based on scams, lies, and outright stealing by bullies who wouldn't know a legitimate stock if it hit them over the head. Every market investor needs to read this book.
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on September 28, 2004
Someone loaned me this book--I didn't buy it--so I feel an obligation to the author to come online and tell him that I absolutely, positively, adored this book. It is a scream! Very funny, with an ironic Afterword that was both touching in a way and also comical to boot. The Afterword describes how the feds punished Lou Pasciuto for coming forward with this story.

But the main thing about this book is that it is a taut, tensely written book that holds you at the edge of your seat from one minute to the next. It is hard to believe that the writer of this book works for a magazine, as it seems to have been written by a mystery author. The pacing moves to a fever pitch, as we follow the central character, sliming his way from one brokerage to the next.

What makes it all so fascinating is that this is a true story, and there are pictures to prove it. Pasciuto was an earner for the mob, and the book is filled with vignettes describing some guys straight out of the real-life Sopranos. My favorite involves a guy I read about as a kid named Sonny Franzese, who used to head up the Colombo family but by the 1990s was reduced to low-rent stock scams.

There are also stories of how famous people got sucked in, including cast members from the Howard Stern show.

All in all a terrific book!
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on April 22, 2004
This is a fascinating look at the other side of Wall Street. Chop houses have been around forever, but despite their omnipresence, you don't hear to much about them these days. The author is a good storyteller and the main character "Louis" is an entertaining fellow who takes us through the intricacies of chop house life. The stories of drug use, gambling (...) and lavish spending juxtapose nicely with the sad conclusion to the story.
Also sad is the fact that thousands of American families lost many millions of dollars to Louis alone. He stole from them and left them with nothing. These poor people lost everything. I still can't get over the fact that anyone could write a check after receiving a cold call from some fast talking NY broker. Hopefully, the public has learned a lesson to understand what they invest in, before they send the check.
Overall, this is an entertaining, and interesting look at a side of Wall Street that most of us don't get to see. And hopefully, we never will. As a side note, the movie "Boiler room" is a good corollary to understanding how chop houses function - the movie does not include any references to the Mafia.
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This book gives a very accurate insider's perspective on the illegal conduct that occured at smaller brokerage firms during the 1990's. It is both entertaining and very informative, especially when it details exactly how some of the stock manipulation scams were pulled off. It will certainly be an eye-opener for many investors, especially those who were conned into investing with these types of rogue brokers.
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on August 19, 2003
a great read if you are at all interested in the mob - well worth the money.
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on June 17, 2003
This is a terrific story about the intersection of needs and desires between criminals, Louis Pasciuto et al, and their victims. It rings true in every aspect. And, this I say after spending a career in wall street as a stock broker, albeit one who worked for reputable brokerage houses. A part of my business career also put me in contact with people who used these kind of chop shops to promote stocks whose ascendance benefitted greatly those on the inside of the game. Yes, trashy behavior by trashy people, but one should not lose sight of those in government and other societal institutions who perpetrate even larger frauds on the public; the ponzi scheme aspects of the social security system come to mind along with the recent problems the catholic church has experienced with Gay priests. Add to this the recent problems of financial fraud in the Washington DC teachers union, committed against its dues paying members, along with the recent insider dealings of the Board members of United Labor Life Insurance company, a union owned entity, where insider actions led to a breach of their fiduciary duties, in a major way, and it becomes abundantly evident that corruption knows no one source.
In my travels I also learned that the SEC and other regulatory bodies, while having many dedicated and honest people, often let larger crimes go unmolested while restricting themselves to smaller fish that they "can fry" within their budgets. That is they often pursue the "honest guys" who make administrative mistakes while letting the larger frauds continue i.e. the egregious accounting scandal at WorldCom perpetrated by Bernie Ebbers and his minions. Where was the oversight?
A positive for "Born to Steal" is that it's darkly funny and easy to read, and will receive wider exposure by being made into a successful movie. In this vein the more investors can learn about stock fraud the better. I would council everyone to read Manuel Asensio's, "Sold Short: Uncovering Deception in the Markets."
Also, the tendency for readers and reviewers with a preconceived mindset to see "corporate greed" behind every illegal action speaks clearly to the anomaly of the human condition; that on the one hand most wish to see themselves as morally virtuous while retaining an unquestioned capacity for self deception. Furthermore, it could be averred that just about everyone has a price when it comes to their complicity in a deal where "something for nothing" seems in the offing. These subsets of the most human of conditions do not restrict themselves to corporations, big business or wall street. One who holds to that notion just hasn't availed themselves of the vast trove of historical data and anecdote which would expose this self-contradiction.
A good read for the summer!
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on April 7, 2006
Mr. Weiss shows us how he has been able to capture his Pulitzer. The author "lets the hood tell his story" as one reviewer complains, but I would assert that this is a BIG asset to this book. Yes, we find out the "banality of evil" but that is beside the point.

You may find yourself dealing with this part of society in one shape or another eventually and you may be surprised to find that the Mafia is NOT so dead as it is being assumed to be. Of course, if you really read between the lines of this book you realize that this is an example of Organized Crime ADAPTING. The penny stock industry (Yes. .it is an ongoing industry . . and NOT going the way of the buggy whip, if my FAX machine is any indication. . .filled as it is with unsolicited stock BS) was the place to be if you wanted to rub shoulders with mobsters in the 1990s. Weiss acts as narrator as the life story of Pasciuto unfolds.

Some here have complained about the prose style. I found it very accessible. The story is an easy read and you are not supposed to wind up "compelled" by any character. They are almost all bad guys. This time, Weiss didn't complain about how incompetent the legal watch dogs must be to simply let this all unfold without being much hindrance, but if you think this stuff through fully, you would wind up wondering that. . .WHERE IS THE SEC??? . . .the NASD?

Anyway, if you want to get a feel for the chop stock industry you should read this book. If you feel compelled to invest in those ULTRA LOW CAP stocks that you see in your fax machine or in unsolicited e-mails. . .you MUST read this book!

Caveat Emptor!

Chris Tune
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