Unaccustomed to following the rules, Anna Sorokin, the Gatsby-like figure who scammed friends, five-star hotels and banks to the tune of $275,000, quickly got into fights while locked up at Rikers Island. In 2018 her skirmishes led to a Christmas spent in solitary confinement in the notorious New York jail.
Now, the “fake heiress”, better known by her alias Anna Delvey, is to be freed early from prison for good behavior — another twist in the tale of the so-called “Soho grifter”, who infiltrated Manhattan’s high society in the guise of a German heiress with millions to squander.
The Art of the Steal
The daughter of a Russian lorry driver, Sorokin, 29, was “dining and dashing” at Manhattan’s choicest restaurants, enjoying lengthy stints at luxury hotels without paying, and blowing thousands on a wardrobe of Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent after duping a bank out of $100,000.
Her extraordinary con artistry — she once fooled a private jet company into flying her to the billionaire Warren Buffett’s annual conference in Nebraska — set New York alight after she was arrested in 2017 and she is now the subject of a Netflix drama, Inventing Anna, whose imminent release is likely to coincide with hers.
The drama is based on a 2018 article in New York magazine by Jessica Pressler, who described Sorokin recently as “charming in a very unusual way”. She went on: “She has a mysterious quality that makes you want to know more, which has a lot to do, I think, with why she was able to accomplish what she did.”
The Netflix deal reportedly landed Sorokin $100,000, plus tens of thousands of dollars for “consulting services” and royalty rights. However, under the “Son of Sam” law — which stops criminals profiting from the publicity their crimes create and takes its title from the nickname of a mass killer — she is being forced to use the fee to pay back her victims.
Besides the film, a memoir seems inevitable too. Sorokin recently published a 3,520-word essay on her Web site about life behind bars during the pandemic.
“Being in prison mostly feels like extended quarantining, only with a bunch of murderers, and we still can get our hair done,” begin the “Anna Delvey Diaries”.
Her Web site also includes links for supporters who wish to pay her in the cryptocurrencies Bitcoin and Ethereum.
Pressler doubts that Sorokin will pursue a writing career: “Anna remains interested in power and money and so she’s going to gravitate towards professions that provide her with those things.”
Sorry, Not Sorry
It is unclear how far her repentance stretches. After her highly publicized trial — during which a hired stylist curated Sorokin’s courtroom outfits, and her lawyer memorably likened her to Frank Sinatra in her dedication to faking it till you make it — she expressed no remorse for her audacious swindling.
“The thing is, I’m not sorry. I’d be lying to you and to everyone else and to myself if I said I was sorry for anything,” Sorokin told The New York Times in 2019. Unsurprisingly, she sang a different tune at her parole board hearing in October last year. “I’m really ashamed and I’m really sorry for what I did,” she said.
“Being in prison mostly feels like extended quarantining, only with a bunch of murderers, and we still can get our hair done.”
During the assessment, the board’s commissioner, Marc Coppola, suggested a more blue-collar gig than writing. “How about washing dishes and working in a kitchen?” he asked. “I can do that too,” claimed Sorokin, who had doled out $100 tips in her previous life as she bounced between Los Angeles, New York and Europe on other people’s money.
Before her downfall, Sorokin had been planning to launch the Anna Delvey Foundation, a $40 million members-only arts club on Manhattan’s Park Avenue South. She tried to get a $22 million bank loan to help pay for the center, which, she boasted to friends, would be wrapped in fabric by the artist Christo, who died last year.
Some of Sorokin’s 73,000 Instagram followers have pleaded for her to forge ahead with her grand plan. Todd Spodek, Sorokin’s lawyer, argues that the “ambitious entrepreneur” is destined for greatness regardless of whether the club materializes.
“I hope that the same skill set that allowed her to get to this position could be used to run a Fortune 500 company and do phenomenal things,” said Spodek. “I truly believe that with the right infrastructure and the right resources, she will be a tremendous success wherever she goes.”
Banking on It
Sorokin, who describes herself as a “retired intern” on social media and has a tattoo depicting Marie Antoinette on her wrist, has expressed an interest in banking. “Ideally, if all goes well, I’ll have my own investment fund,” she told The New York Times from prison.
Another potentially lucrative avenue — in a country that loves a hustler and a redemption story — is motivational speaking. This would follow in the footsteps of a fellow fraudster, Jordan Belfort, the disgraced former stock trader whose story was turned into the Hollywood film The Wolf of Wall Street.
Spodek dreams bigger for his client, however. “I want her career to be, ‘I’ve learned from my mistakes, and I applied the same principles and now I have a thriving consulting company, a thriving events company,’” he said. “I want the chapter of Anna Sorokin as a crook to close and the chapter of Anna Sorokin as an entrepreneur to open.”
Others pointed out her strength with computers, her interest in artificial intelligence and her newfound culinary skills learned behind bars. Certainly, she has a legion of fans who hold her up as a fearless folk hero.
“I truly believe that with the right infrastructure and the right resources, she will be a tremendous success wherever she goes.”
Before career concerns, Sorokin is battling to avoid being deported back to Germany, where her parents live. The signs are not promising: she recently lost an appeal to use some of her Netflix fee to hire an immigration lawyer to fight her corner.
Because of the coronavirus, though, New York may hold less appeal for Sorokin now. The city’s swirl of fashion parties, swanky dinners and socialite shoulder-rubbing is on an extended hiatus.
“Anna will talk about ‘when I get out, we’ll go to this place and this place’, and it’s like, ‘Anna, those places aren’t there.’ The parties aren’t there, the whole world that she was able to move around in is gone,” said Pressler, adding that high society Manhattan will view Sorokin as a “novelty figure”.
According to Juda Engelmayer, a PR guru who has represented the rapist film mogul Harvey Weinstein, New York will welcome Sorokin back so long as she brings something valuable to the table.
“It’s hard to imagine the city just wantonly taking back somebody who’s only been on the take the entire time and never actually offered anything in return,” he said.
Sorokin should take inspiration from Frank Abagnale Jr, the former conman who ended up helping the FBI catch other fraudsters and whose crime spree was the inspiration for the film Catch Me If You Can, suggested Engelmayer.
If Sorokin wanted to enlist a PR team to overhaul her reputation, it would probably cost at least $15,000 a month.
The Soho grifter would need to pay that up front. Engelmayer said: “Very few PR firms are going to work on the basis of, ‘She’s an heiress and the money will come in one day.’”
Laura Pullman is the New York correspondent for The Sunday Times of London