Footing the Bill: The Curious Case of Anna Delvey

Written by: Emma Lee Shuen (21-O1), Eliora Tan Yuxuan (21-E6), Katelyn Joshy (21-U1), Leia Ong Rui En (20-U1), Rakshita Murugan, Tricia Loh Qiuxuan (21-U1)

Designed by: Jervis Chng Yun Ping (21-U5)

Who was Anna Delvey? 

Ask any staff member at the 11 Howard, a sleek boutique hotel on the South of Houston Street (or SoHo), in 2017, and they would tell you about Miss Anna Delvey, the unkempt-haired, stunningly generous European heiress who treated the hotel like a home and its staff like her friends — if the hundred-dollar bills she so freely handed out as tips were any indication.

Photo Credit: @theannadelvey on Instagram

The Fake Heiress, Wannabe Socialite, or the SoHo Grifter. Paint her however you like, but it is impossible to deny the shrewdness of Anna Delvey, real name Anna Sorokin. She, with sheer wit, confidence (and hundred-dollar bills) alone, was able to dupe New York into believing her immense wealth, originating from a fictitious trust fund. Sorokin enjoyed champagne lunches, kept company with the richest and most famous of New York socialites, and spent physical dollar bills like they were nothing. Her professed aim in coming to New York? To launch an art business-cum-club: the “Anna Delvey Foundation”. 

Sorokin spent 4 years building her glamorous lifestyle and reputation as Anna Delvey off pure wads of cash and Instagram; her feed resplendent with visions of private yacht rides, fine art and social functions with the likes of Macaulay Culkin. Barely anyone saw past her facade, star-studded as it appeared, but cracks started to show when the wealthy founder of Beijing’s M Woods museum, Michael Huang, went on a trip with her to the Venice Biennale.

Photo Credit: Artnet News

Sorokin asked Huang to charge their travel expenses — $2,000 — to his credit card, saying she would repay him later. It was not till a few months later, at Sorokin’s birthday party, did he realise that she never held her promise. 

Delvey, unravelling

A month and a half after Sorokin arrived at 11 Howard, the hotel realised that Sorokin had not paid her room expenses, as they had never had a credit card on file for her. Sorokin now owed the hotel a sum of $30,000. She promised she’d provide payment and a credit card — after she returned from a luxurious vacation to Morocco with her friend, Vanity Fair photojournalist Rachel Williams.

Photo Credit: Dazed Digital

Two days into the vacation at Morocco, Marrakech, the hotel found that the credit card Sorokin had used to book the room was nonfunctional. Put on the spot, Rachel Williams was forced to foot the bill — a whopping $62,000 — by herself. Sorokin, a month later, only transferred $5,000 to Williams’ account. Williams later wrote in an article that she was “left in tears” and suffering regular panic attacks, consumed by the stress caused by Sorokin.

Sorokin’s sham was rapidly falling apart. She moved out of 11 Howard and to another lavish hotel downtown, which after 20 days evicted her for, again, a lack of a working credit card on file and having not received the promised wire transfer of expenses. A 2-day stay at another hotel ended in a similar fashion, and Sorokin was essentially homeless by early July.

The hotels filed charges against Sorokin for theft of services, and before long, the true scale of Sorokin’s fraudulence was revealed, involving an elaborate system of false cheques, multiple bank accounts and sending phony receipts for wire transfers to people. She was finally arrested in October 2017, where in New York she was put on trial, facing six counts of grand larceny, attempted grand larceny and theft of services.

“Anna’s was a beautiful dream of New York, like one of those nights that never seems to end,” commented Rachel Williams, in her article. “And then the bill arrives.” 

Going for trial 

Clad in expensive designer clothes, Delvey — or Anna Sorokin, as she was revealed to be — showed up to her trials hoping to draw more attention to her public image than the crimes she had committed. She had hired a celebrity stylist, Anastasia Nicole Walker, who dressed her as if she had the finances of a German heiress. During her trials, Sorokin showed no glimmer of remorse, and was even caught rolling her eyes.

Photo credit: Vanity Fair  

Her time in jail 

Sorokin was sentenced to 12 years in jail, but was recently released this year on account of her good behaviour. Ironically, she mentioned in an interview after her prison release, that prison was “a huge waste of time” and was simply “pointless”. While Sorokin now faces deportation back to Germany, she remains in custody, and the exact date of her deportation is not known.

Netflix adaptation 

Photo Credit: Netflix

With all the buzz surrounding the name ‘Delvey’, it’s no surprise that Netflix has already offered the con artist a whopping $320,000 (£230,000) for rights over her story. Currently, a new Netflix drama is underway- ‘Inventing Anna’, where a journalist dives deep into the case of Anna Delvey. The 10-part series stars Julia Garner as the legendary con artist and is due to air its first episode on January 1st 2022.

Delvey, unmasked

Anna Delvey is really Anna Sorokin — the child of a middle class Russian family. Born in Russia in 1991, Sorokin moved to Germany in 2007 during her adolescence with her parents and sibling. Sorokin’s father worked as a trucker and her mother owned a convenience store. In Germany, she attended the gymnasium in Eschweiler, where peers described her as a ‘quiet girl’. 

By 2011, she graduated high school and worked in a public relations firm before relocating to Paris to begin an internship for the French fashion magazine Purple. It was around this time she coined the moniker Anna Delvey and her web of lies began. 

Dissecting Sorokin’s Character 

Photo credit: 60 Minutes Australia Interview

In the candid interview, Sorokin repeatedly denies any wrongdoing; “I’m not this person who’s trying to trick her way into stuff…” , “I don’t see this case as a crime at all.” and  “I don’t see myself as such.” when told that people saw her as a conwoman. This refusal to accept the heinous nature of her crimes suggests she is a deep narcissist. She does not feel sorry for manipulating her victims or stealing their money as she believes they deserved it. Therefore, in her eyes, she did no wrong.

Moreover, Anna is very image-conscious as seen in her reaction to one of her victims, Rachel Williams’ best selling book My Friend Anna, which documents William’s encounter with Sorokin. 

“She is just some random girl in her 20s… Anyone that knows me doesn’t believe any of that stuff… She’s a photo editor at a fashion magazine,” said a peeved Sorokin, who tried to use Williams’ age and her position at Vanity Fair to discredit her. Anna is also rather attention-seeking and loves being in the spotlight, as seen in how she flaunted a new designer outfit at each court trial, knowing the paparazzi would be there.

Sorokin’s impact on the world 

As we begin to comprehend the scale of the Sorokin scam, we cannot help but ask ourselves: how did she pull this off? How could the people around her have failed to pick out all the red flags? 

The truth is simple. For all of Anna’s flaws, she was able to see through the layers of bustling New York and understand the core of how our society functions. Waving wads of $100 bills and strutting around in luxury clothing allowed Anna to seamlessly fit into the aristocratic New York scene because of one fundamental concept – money blinds.

Capitalising on our propensity to take things at face value and play into delusions of grandeur, Anna built up a formidable profile of endless parties and luxurious holidays on social media platforms like Instagram to elevate her celebrity status. Thus, the “crispy curated fabulousness” of social media made it even easier for Anna to establish herself as a credible and wealthy German heiress by exacerbating the illusion of wealth and power. In the words of writer and psychologist Maria Konnikova, “The barrier of entry is so much lower.”

In hindsight, the baffling scheme that Anna executed turned out to be an honest reflection of what we value as a society. As a result, her story sheds light on our fundamental cupidity and warns us against succumbing to delusions of wealth and power. After all, when power is based on appearances, it can slip away as easily and suddenly as it was acquired.

So what can we learn from Sorokin?

Everyone ought to have aspirations, and Sorokin is no anomaly in that factor. Sorokin’s big dreams, or rather an imagination of a rich life; a product of her own delusion and overwhelming desire to be the “It girl” can certainly teach us that despite the urge to act impulsively to accomplish our desires, it has to be done in abidance to the law, which is the most courteous, fundamental expectation of a civilian. We also realise the repercussions of indulging in materialism — it brings no harm to detach oneself from such shallow desires, but a lot of misery that comes with lavish aspirations. 

However, Sorokin’s case surely must also say something about the people and society she fooled. She managed to get stunningly far in her deception with just the appearances of wealth — the money she handed out and the designer goods she owned were distracting enough for people not to suspect her further.

Along with it, we realise the importance of having trust with the right people; if one is conned, it is solely their foolishness and the conman cannot hold the blame for this. 

“We can all be conned, but at what point do we realise that we’re being conned and to what point do we allow ourselves to be conned?”
– Guy Ritchie

Bibliography

  1. Pressler, J. (2018, May 2018). How Anna Delvey Tricked New York. https://www.thecut.com/2018/05/how-anna-delvey-tricked-new-york.html
  2. Paybarah, A. (2019, May 10). How ‘Anna Delvey’ Conned New York. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/10/nyregion/newyorktoday/nyc-news-anna-sorokin-delvey.html
  3. Baker, V. (2019, April 26). Anna Sorokin: the trial of New York’s fake heiress. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-47741923
  4. 9Now [60 Minutes Australia]. (2021, April 18). How con-artist Anna Sorokin ripped off the New York elite and became a star | 60 Minutes Australia [Video]. YouTube. https://youtu.be/GQbNnUW_xqw 
  5. Associated Press. (2021, April 2). Fake German heiress Anna Sorokin taken into US custody, faces deportation. South China Morning Post. https://www.scmp.com/news/world/united-states-canada/article/3128050/fake-german-heiress-anna-sorokin-taken-us-custody 
  6. Bryant, K. (2019, April 23). The Baby-Doll Innocence of Anna “Delvey” Sorokin’s Last Trial Look. Vanity Fair. https://www.vanityfair.com/style/2019/04/anna-delvey-sorokin-court-trial-outfit-final-white-dress 
  7. Helmore, E. (2019, May 10). Anna Sorokin: fake German heiress sentenced to up to 12 years in prison. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/may/09/anna-sorokin-sentence-fake-heiress-scammer-delvey-jail-time-latest-news-new-york-trial 
  8. Jennings, R. (2019, March 28). Why does Anna Delvey, the fake German heiress, look so fashionable in court? Anna Delvey Scam Trial: Anna Sorokin’s Courtroom Look Goes Viral. https://www.vox.com/the-goods/2019/3/28/18284406/anna-delvey-sorokin-trial-scam 
  9. Shamsian, J. (2021, February 25). EXCLUSIVE: “Fake heiress” Anna Sorokin says her prison sentence was “a huge waste of time.” Insider. https://www.insider.com/anna-sorokin-delvey-interview-after-prison-release-2021-2 
  10. annadlvv/Instagram. (2018, May 29). How an Aspiring ‘It’ Girl Tricked New York’s Party People – and Its Banks. The Cut. https://www.thecut.com/2018/05/how-anna-delvey-tricked-new-york.html
  11. Baker, V. (2019, April 26). Anna Sorokin: The trial of New York’s fake heiress. BBC News. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-47741923

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With great power comes great responsibility.

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