The New York Magazine feature on a high school kid who made $72 million trading stocks turned out to be complete bullshit. Now, in an interview with The New York Observer, the featured kid is pointing fingers at the author, who's defending the piece, arguing people should have realized it was a hoax all along.
The fantastical story revolved around a Stuyvesant High School student named Mohammed Islam, who claimed he had earned around $72 million trading oil and gold after school. The reporter, Jessica Pressler, noted that although "Mo" was "shy" about exactly how much he'd made, he had a lot of money. And, according to a later editor's note to the article, "Mohammed provided bank statements that showed he is worth eight figures, and he confirmed on the record that he's worth eight figures."
Mo's reticence, it turns out, was due to the fact that the whole story was made up. The New York Observer caught up with him, and he told the paper he was never worth eight figures and that he had only ever made simulated trades in his high school investment club, which he pretended were real.
Observer: What was your first contact with the New York magazine reporter?
Mohammed Islam: My friend's father worked at New York magazine and he had the reporter contact me. Then she [Jessica Pressler] called me.
You seem to be quoted saying "eight figures." That's not true, is it?
No, it is not true.
Is there ANY figure? Have you invested and made returns at all?
So it's total fiction?
Pressler defended her report to CNBC's Josh Brown, saying she'd hedged on whether Mohammed's claims were true and blamed the misconception on the accompanying headline, "Reasons to Love New York No. 12. A Stuyvesant senior made $72 million trading stocks on his lunch break." (The headline has since been changed.)
"I still think the piece is skeptical enough," she told CNNMoney early Monday afternoon. "The story says, 'This is a rumor and draw your own conclusions.'"
Mo got into trading oil and gold, and his bank account grew. Though he is shy about the $72 million number, he confirmed his net worth is in the "high eight figures." More than enough to rent an apartment in Manhattan—though his parents won't let him live in it until he turns 18—and acquire a BMW, which he can't drive because he doesn't yet have a license.
The conflicts between Pressler and Mohammed's take on the interview have yet to be resolved.
Pressler's argument now seems to be that her sentence dedicated to Mohammed's reluctance to confirm the exact amount he'd made trading qualified the entire piece about him earning millions of dollars trading stocks.
"If he lied, then he lied," she told CNBC. "But I just want to be clear that we didn't 100% follow this lie. That's just not what happened."