NEW YORK, MAY 31 -- If there were a contest to pick the champion wunderkind of Wall Street, Paul Tudor Jones II would have a clear shot at the title.
A Tennessee-born cotton trader who came to Manhattan in 1978 and made himself a multimillionaire, Jones is widely recognized as the most talented player of his time in the ultra-high-stakes Wall Street game of speculating in futures contracts.
At 35, Jones also has managed to live the glamorous, free-spending lifestyle of the young and newly rich, while simultaneously making a name for himself as a philanthropist with a social conscience.
Last week, however, Jones suffered the worst embarrassment of his young career, when his high living clashed head-on with his desire to win respect as a do-gooder.
In what was termed the largest financial penalty ever levied against an individual in an environmental case, Jones agreed to pay $2 million after pleading guilty to a single misdemeanor for negligence in violating the federal Clean Water Act after allowing contractors to damage ecologically sensitive wetlands on his 3,272-acre private hunting estate on Maryland's Eastern Shore.
A judge ordered Jones to serve 18 months' probation, and, as part of the punishment, barred the avid duck hunter from shooting any game birds or waterfowl until the end of 1991.
While the guilty plea may leave a permanent stain on his image, Jones's fabulous reputation with investors is unlikely to suffer. His extraordinary record in trading almost anything available -- from Japanese stocks to orange juice, Treasury bonds to petroleum -- has made him the envy of speculators worldwide.
"He is, by unanimous consent of his peers, the outstanding trader of this particular time," said Morton S. Baratz, editor of Managed Account Reports, a monthly periodical based in Columbia, Md., that monitors the futures industry.
An investor who put $1,000 in Jones's Tudor Futures Fund when it opened in September 1984 would have seen it grow to $32,421 by the end of last April.
Jones's performance in the Oct. 19, 1987, "Black Monday" stock market crash already is the stuff of legend. His fund rose in value by 62 percent during October of that year, because Jones had expected a market collapse and placed his bets accordingly.
He pulled off this feat by taking a short position in stock index futures, and thus arranged to profit if the market as a whole declined in value. He also benefited from heavy investments in Treasury bonds, which rose sharply when investors shifted money into bonds to get out of the plunging stock market.
So many people want Jones to manage their money that for two years he has refused to accept new investments in his funds, managed by his firm Tudor Investment Corp. Last December, he disappointed many investors by giving back $200 million that had been entrusted to him because his funds had grown so big that he felt he had lost the flexibility necessary to continue to earn superior returns.
Even after the giveback, Jones today manages about $500 million, and is estimated to have a personal net worth of more than $100 million.
His success is particularly noteworthy because he excels in one of the most challenging arenas on Wall Street. His field, commodity futures trading, involves buying and selling contracts granting the right to purchase things -- agricultural products, precious metals, currencies, stocks or other financial instruments -- at specified prices on some future date.
These markets are particularly volatile, offering exceptionally large risks and equally high potential rewards.
"What happens in commodities, in just a few days, takes a month or two in the stock market," Deane Jones, president of Jones Commodities Inc. in Reno, Nev., said. Jones, no relation to Paul Jones, operates a fund that has $4 million invested in the Tudor Futures Fund.
Paul Jones also has attracted attention for his jet-setting lifestyle, although he once denied in a letter to the Wall Street Journal that it was anywhere near as glamorous as a front-page article had suggested.
Some of his millions have gone to pay for Alpine skiing trips, and for buying his Tudor Farms hunting estate south of Cambridge, Md., in Dorchester County. Before marrying an Australian-born fashion model last year, the tony magazine Town and Country named Jones in 1987 one of New York's most "eligible and exciting" bachelors.
At the same time, Jones also has donated $7.5 million to help set up the Robin Hood Foundation, which taps the rich for money to finance projects to benefit the poor. He has promised 109 students in Brooklyn's impoverished Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood that he will pay for them to go to college if they continue their education beyond high school.
Jones, who once relished publicity, has now become cautious about the media and declined to be interviewed for this article. Some observers believe that he was unhappy with the public image that he gained as an aggressive speculator and social climber eager to buy his way into elite New York society. "He's a kid who was thrown a lot of money. The maturity is just starting to catch up to him," an acquaintance in the New York financial community, who asked to remain anonymous, said.
His shyness with the media may have been compounded by the publicity over the wetlands case.
Jones, who entered his guilty plea last week as part of an agreement with federal prosecutors, acknowledged only that he was negligent in allowing the former manager of his property to fill in wetlands with dirt and other materials without permission. He said Tudor Farms was created as "a conservation project" and that he hoped to establish it as "an outstanding wildlife sanctuary, and fishing and hunting preserve."
But prosecutors said Jones and his manager had ignored repeated notices from the Army Corps of Engineers to stop filling in the wetlands.