Inventing Anna: Anna Delvey, the con man who defrauded Manhattan’s elite by posing as a German heiress | Society
The premiere of Invent Annaa Netflix show by Shonda Rhimes, caught Anna Delvey (whose real name is Anna Sorokin) in jail, or more specifically, in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for overstaying her visa.
Prior to that, she spent time in no less than five penitentiaries serving time for grand larceny and theft of services, including New York’s infamous Rikers Island Correctional Facility, which appears in the streaming series. “You are wearing a blue jumpsuit,” notes the reporter who goes to see her, after being informed by Delvey that her clothes are awful. Delvey coolly replies that she’s having her prison jumpsuit ironed and accessorizing it.
While the show isn’t 100% true to reality, this dialogue sounds a lot like the real ones Delvey has had with reporters in the past. At the end of her trial, she told a reporter to The New York Times“The thing is…I’m not sorry.” And when a BBC reporter asked her if crime paid, she said yes, literally. That’s because Netflix paid him $320,000 (€282,000) for his lifetime rights to the series. Delvey spent about $200,000 (€176,000) to pay off his debts and the rest to pay his legal fees.
In financial terms, Delvey may well be the least ambitious of all the Gen Y con artists who have emerged over the past decade and whose stories now flood commercial fiction. Elizabeth Holmes, the founder of Theranos (there are two ongoing projects about her, added to an existing docuseries and podcasts) has extracted a lot more money from investors with her unicorn blood analysis company which was full of hot air, and Rebekah Neumann was losing up to $100 million (88 million euros) a week at WeWork, the company she co-founded with husband Adam Neumann. Her story will soon be told by HBO with actress Anne Hathaway in the lead role.
Delvey’s con game seems almost modest in comparison, but his story is alluring because of where it took place, among Manhattan’s elite. Audiences love watching these supposedly sophisticated people get duped, and they’re also fooled by Delvey’s utter lack of self-judgment and limitless ability to lie. Even during her trial, she continued to promote herself relentlessly. She hired a stylist, Anastasia Walker, to help her watch the hearings, and together the couple opened an Instagram account to show them called Anna Delvey watches the court. Many of these outfits have been carefully replicated in the Netflix series.
Delvey was sentenced to four to 12 years in prison for failing to pay bills worth $200,000. The list of creditors includes hotels and a private airline. But the scammer was arrested before he could carry out a more ambitious project: obtaining 25 million dollars (22 million euros) from an investment fund to create a private art club with branches in Hong Kong, Los Angeles, Dubai and Manhattan. The company was to be called, with characteristic modesty, the Anna Delvey Foundation, and it nearly succeeded.
His system was a classic scam. To get people to give you money, you need to look like you already have it. The scam requires some investment. At 11 Howard, the luxury boutique hotel where she stayed for months (and left without paying), all the employees were fighting to be the one who brought her packages, because she always left $100 (€88) of tips.
Delvey (she insists it was her mother’s maiden name, though her parents denied it) arrived in New York in 2016. She had no college degree, no friends, and no money. His only known experience is an internship in a Parisian magazine called Mauve, where she made her first major contact, magazine editor Oliver Zahm, a fixture at VIP parties at Coachella, Art Basel, Ibiza, Frieze and Soho Houses around the world. That’s when she started infiltrating the scene and doing weird things that she wouldn’t get in trouble for yet. She asked people to pay for her trips or taxi rides and forgot to reimburse them. She left unpaid bills everywhere she went and stayed with people for free. She told everyone she was the daughter of a German entrepreneur, and she became known as the German heiress. In reality, she was born in Russia, where her father was a trucker who went bankrupt trying to set up a transport business and her mother a housewife who ran a grocery store for a while.
One of his main contacts was Gabriel Calatrava, son of the Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava and manager of the family’s real estate assets. He showed her a large space on Park Avenue in Manhattan that would be perfect for her future foundation. She kept telling everyone that when she was 25 she would be able to access her money, but until then she needed the money.
Delvey also defrauded far more vulnerable people, especially young women who seemed fascinated by his lifestyle. One of these victims, Rachel Williams, travels to Marrakech with Delvey for a trip that will mark the beginning of the end for the scammer. Taking inspiration from Kim Kardashian’s Instagram account, Delvey booked a private riad at La Mamounia, a luxury hotel in the city, and ordered massages and spa services. She also refreshed her wardrobe at the hotel boutique. The final bill was over €60,000 (€53,000). As usual, Delvey’s credit card didn’t work and Williams used his own expense card to vanity lounge, the magazine where she worked as a photo editor. Delvey promised she would pay her back immediately but weeks passed and the money was never transferred.
Back from her trip, Delvey changed hotels and started staying at the Beekman, where she ran into debt of $10,000 (€8,800), but management was less patient than at 11 Howard. After 20 days, she was denied access to her room and found herself on the street wearing Alexander Wang clothes. All of her attempts to use fake checks and fake money transfers from non-existent accounts began to fail, and authorities began to close in on her over unpaid hotel bills. Delvey fled to California, where she was arrested at the door of a club called Passages.
But she has plans for the future. As she said recently The New York Times, she spends her time in ICE detention reading, preparing a legal defense to avoid being deported to Germany, and thinking about producing a documentary and a podcast with her version of events. “I’m not trying to encourage people to commit crimes. I’m just trying to shed some light on how I made the best of my situation, not trying to glorify it,” she told the newspaper.