Rachel DeLoache Williams reveals exclusively to Stylist how she became one of many New Yorkers to fall for Anna Sorokin’s elaborate con.
In May 2018, New York magazine ran an article under the headline ‘How Anna Delvey Tricked New York’s Party People’ that went viral. It detailed the story of a young woman who lived in hotels, ate at upscale restaurants like Le Coucou every night and spent money like it was water. She told people she was a German heiress and she lived like one. But it was all a lie.
Anna Delvey (real name Anna Sorokin) was a Russian national who conned a total of $275,000 (£220,000) from banks, hotels and friends. In May this year, she was sentenced to up to 12 years in prison for four counts of theft of services, three counts of grand larceny and one count of attempted grand larceny. Here, Rachel DeLoache Williams tells Stylist how her friendship with Delvey left her almost £50,000 out of pocket.
“Her story was that she was a German heiress with a huge trust fund. And she was very believable. Not in the sense that she had manners – it was the opposite, I’d say – but in that she was so casually entitled. She acted in a way that implied she didn’t have to care that much. If somebody was walking out of door, for example, she’d walk through it as if they’d opened it for her. She wasn’t one for ‘please’ or ‘thank you’. She was demanding. Someone told me that she’d shown up to their apartment, opened their fridge and helped herself to an entire bottle of San Pellegrino without asking. She had a disregard for other people.
At first, I knew about her only peripherally. She’d been tagged in photos on Instagram with people I knew and she had more than 40,000 followers. I’d presumed she was a socialite or involved in the art world somehow. It gave her a degree of validity in my mind. It backed up her story before I’d even met her.
I met Anna during Fashion Week at a low-key lounge on the Lower East Side of New York in early 2016. I think she came with a friend of mine, Mariella, who she was close with at the time. She was wearing a fitted black dress and flat Gucci sandals. I later learned she wore almost only black. She wore understated items from high-end brands, things you’d have to know to recognise. She once told me this was because there was less chance of them being stolen. She seemed eccentric, a little bit off. She had this pan-European accent that was hard to place. There was something about her that made you just want to stare. You couldn’t quite figure her out.
People thought of Anna as a rich girl who lived in a hotel and was working on building her own art foundation. That’s what she told people. She would come live when she spoke about the foundation. I don’t know how seriously anyone thought she was or if they really believed she was going to be a success, but it sounded entirely plausible to me that she was trying to make it happen.
Before we met, my life was great. I was working at Vanity Fair as a photo editor, which was my dream job. I traveled a lot for work and I had really good friends. Things were going well. But I was also at a point in my life where lots of my friends had relocated to Brooklyn or didn’t live in New York any more. So the people I was hanging out with weren’t the closest to me.
Anna’s behaviour never struck me as malicious. She got away with a lot because she was a young woman with an innocent-looking face. This was a part of my personality that she exploited: my empathy. I rationalised that she hadn’t had anyone to teach her about manners. She told me she wasn’t close with her family and I thought she was troubled. I wanted to teach her, be there for her in a way other people hadn’t. She once told me her that her mother had kept her younger brother separate from her, so she was basically raised as an only child.
I thought this was an odd thing to say. And based on her behaviour, I presumed her parents were tough and she’d been a little neglected. I imagined her growing up in a huge house in Germany, alone.
After that first night, Mariella, Anna and I started going out together every few weeks to restaurants or bars. But it wasn’t until Anna came back from a trip to Germany in February of 2017 that we got close. She sought me out the day she landed. I had just broken up with a boyfriend and was going through a transitional phase generally, so I was excited to see her. I was entertained by her and curious about her.
Living the high life
Anna would often ask me for advice because I worked at Vanity Fair. She’d want to know what the beauty or travel editor recommended. She cared a lot about knowing what was cool and where to be seen. Although, when she got to these places it seemed like she didn’t know what to do. As if she was just checking a box, mentally.
I guess I got more comfortable with her over time. When it comes to making new friends, I’m usually wary. But she was so different to me and we kind of balanced each other out. I worry about what other people think of me. She wasn’t like that. She didn’t care. She started to text me almost every day. She’d write: ‘Hey what are you doing, do you want to come by for a drink?’ She was living at the hotel 11 Howard, which is close to my apartment, so I would stop by on my way home from work.
Anna didn’t actually leave her hotel very often, so we’d often get a drink at its bar called The Library, which feels a bit like Soho House, and then Le Coucou for dinner, which is also inside the hotel. It was a very decadent place for regular meals; heavy, butter-filled food.
You also have to understand that I was accustomed to being around people living this kind of upscale lifestyle because of my job. Her world wasn’t new to me. It was certainly exciting to be a part of, but Anna wasn’t my ticket into it.
It was around this time that the idea of a trip came up. She said she needed to leave America to reset her visa, and instead of going home she wanted to go somewhere warm. The very next week she forwarded me an email confirming that she’d booked a private villa at La Mamounia in Marrakech [£5,485 a night]. I was sceptical that it was actually going to happen. But if it did work out? Great!
On the morning we were supposed to leave, she asked for my help booking the flights because there was a problem with her card. I didn’t think too much of it; this was just the way she was: disorganised. I’d seen her book things last minute so many times and I knew she would reimburse me.
From there, it was a trickle effect. At the airport, Anna ‘accidentally’ checked her wallet, which meant I had to pay for everyone’s dinner (she brought a photographer and her personal trainer, too). Her card still wasn’t working for the rest of the trip, so I began adding things to a tab (dinners, kaftans). I had presumed our villa was pre-paid, but at some point the hotel manager began asking to speak with Anna.
The penny drops
On the third day of the trip, I walked into our villa and the hotel managers were standing in the doorway. Anna was sitting with her phone on the table in front of her, like she was waiting for something. A call, apparently. One of the managers turned to me and asked if I had a credit card. They were firm. I looked to Anna and she said ‘use it for now’. My stomach sank. It would have felt weirdly ungrateful to show my annoyance, so I gave it to them. I was told the charge was only temporary – it wasn’t – and I left the next morning, a day before she did.
This is when everything started to unravel. Every day I asked her for the money back and every day she promised it would arrive. I thought she was just doing a characteristically bad job of following through with logistical things. It was $62,000 [about £48,800] in total.
This went on for an excruciatingly long time – two months – and my life started falling apart. I was having panic attacks constantly, not sleeping. It took me a strikingly long time to even ask myself the question: what if she never pays you back? Because that would mean I’d have to look at how that would impact my life, and I knew if I did that, I would’ve lost it. I already wasn’t saving any money – New York is expensive, and I was barely breaking even – so to be set back 60-something thousand dollars? It felt like, ‘I am never going to get out of this hole. This is where it ends for me. I’m not going to get to buy a house, I’m not going to get to be a real adult, I’m never going to have kids.’
But every morning, I would pull myself together and focus on work. I didn’t tell many people because I didn’t have any answers. I also kept believing her. However stressful it was, it seemed like the solution was so simple; as soon as the wire arrived, it would be done. I started to think she mustn’t be speaking to her parents, then I thought she was having a breakdown. I thought she was delusional. I couldn’t figure it out.
It didn’t occur to me that she could be a complete imposter. It only clicked when a friend and I confronted her in August 2018. I remember thinking, ‘Oh, this is a very long con game’. I was watching how she was dead behind the eyes, how she had an answer for everything. She showed no understanding of what I was going through, of how this was impacting my life. She was very defensive. There was no apology.
In the end, I worked with the police on her arrest. It was really upsetting for me to turn the tables and betray her, but I knew that if she would do this to me she would do it to anybody. I didn’t want it to happen again. The last time I saw her was when I testified in court in March. She looked at me and smirked; all the mystery was gone. She has no remorse and that validated my decision. On the day, I felt misunderstood, like I was this greedy girl who was friends with her because I thought she had all this money. Which wasn’t the truth: we were real friends.
Anna’s lawyer was very good at trying to attack my character, he said I deserved an Oscar for my testimony because I cried. It was brutal. These days, I’m more aware of my impulse to trust people, to try to please everybody. I’m trying not to selectively filter behaviours I like and I don’t like in others. Have you heard that Maya Angelou quote that Oprah has paraphrased? Well, it says that when people show you who they are, you should believe them. I now see the truth in that. I chose to see the good in Anna and I couldn’t have been more wrong.”
My Friend Anna: The True Story Of Anna Delvey, The Fake Heiress Of New York City by Rachel DeLoache Williams (£16.99, Quercus) is out now
The psychology of a fraudster
Consultant forensic psychologist Dr Ruth Tully talks us through a con artist’s typical traits
1. Socially adept
“One very common misconception about con artists is that they are not very good with people. In reality, most have highly developed social skills and use them to get an insight into what people want to hear. The difference is that they’ll then use this insight for very antisocial aims.”
“They will often feel that they deserve the money they’re conning people out of. They’ll look for characteristics they can take advantage of in other people. Often, the victim ends up being someone who is caring by nature – a fraudster will exploit the victim’s desire to help them.”
3. Low sense of self-esteem
“If you look into a con artist’s personal history, right from childhood, something emotionally upsetting has usually happened to them and this kind of behaviour becomes their defence mechanism against it. They tend be trying to overcompensate for feelings of low self-worth.”
4 . Looking for a rush
“For some, it’s the feeling of getting away with it that spurs them on. Take, for example, walking out of a restaurant without paying the bill. For most of us, that would be our worst nightmare – we’d feel that everyone was looking at us. But a con artist will feel in control, powerful and excited by the experience.”
5 . A lack of empathy
“Many will have very limited empathy. This can be the result of an ‘attachment disruption’ in childhood, where a traumatic experience involving a caregiver means they struggle to form healthy attachments to other people. They can no longer engage with other people’s feelings.”
Photography: James Keivom for dailymail.co.uk/Solo Syndication, Rachel DeLoache Williams, Nick Rogers
Additional images: Instagram