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Great Weekend Read - Hard to Put Down
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.