Anna Delvey: inside the unbelievable true story of New York’s ‘fake heiress’

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Hannah-Rose Yee
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Anna Delvey

She claimed to be a German socialite setting up an art foundation. But in reality, she was living on borrowed money and borrowed time.

The defendant wore Miu Miu.  

Walking into Manhattan Criminal Court on Wednesday, 27 March, Anna Sorokin looked sleek in a black Miu Miu cocktail dress, a matching ribbon choker and her trademark oversized Celine glasses. It was the first day of her trial for fraud, in which she stands accused of swindling hotels, banks, designers, private jet companies and friends out of some $275,000, which carries with it 15 years of jail time if convicted. 

On 26 April, she was found guilty of four counts of theft, three counts of grand larceny and one count of attempted grand larceny, with her sentence to be decided on 9 May. 

Back then, at the height of her alleged scam, she was known as Anna Delvey, a German heiress from Cologne on an art collecting mission for her ‘foundation’ with a reported $60 million in personal assets in a trust fund. In reality, the 28-year-old was born in Russia in 1991 to middle class parents. Her father had been a truck driver and, later, ran an energy-efficient business. And there was no trust fund. 

“Any millennial will tell you, it is not uncommon to have delusions of grandeur,” Sorokin’s lawyer Todd Spodek said in his opening remarks to the court.

“There’s a little bit of Anna in everyone. Everyone lies a little.” 

Inside Anna Delvey’s early life in New York

As far as boutique hotels go, it doesn’t get better than 11 Howard.

On the corner of two of Soho’s most bustling streets and neighbour to the Glossier flagship and the Reformation store, it is all sleek, Scandi-minimalist design and expensive cocktails, the kind of place where you might see a Victoria’s Secret model rubbing shoulders with Mary-Kate Olsen and Ewan McGregor. 

Anna Delvey loved 11 Howard. She stayed there, on and off, for months in 2017 in Howard Deluxe, a room that costs around $400 a night. Every time a concierge would take a package up to her room, she would tip them with a crisp $100 bill. 

At that time, she always had $100 bills on her person. She loved to spend: she bought clothes from Acne and Supreme, had manicures and treatments and went to a personal trainer who had worked with Dakota Johnson, according to an investigative report in New York magazine. She was generous, too, buying presents and meals for her friends. She paid for everything in cash.

In New York, if there’s one thing that’s more important than money it’s connections. And at the time, Delvey had plenty of those, too. She had interned at the cult fashion magazine Purple in Paris and knew its man-about-town editor-in-chief Olivier Zahm. She ate at all the cool restaurants. She flew in private jets. She went to Art Basel and the Venice Biennale.

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She wanted to start a business – the Anna Delvey Foundation – that would be a patronage-style club with locations around the world. In a brochure for the foundation, she described herself as being a lifelong collector with works by Cindy Sherman, Agnes Martin, Ed Ruscha and Helmut Newton to her name.

Delvey described her business as “a membership club experience… organised around a world-class contemporary art collection.” 

“Easily accessible and stylishly conceived, ADF offers fine dining, cocktails, members’ lounges, contemporary art and an artist studio – entirely integrated within an historic building in the heart of Manhattan,” the brochure read. 

As soon as she came into her trust fund when she turned 25, she told people, she was going to make this dream into a reality. 

The money trail

But Delvey needed more money. She had $25 million already, she said, but she wanted another $25 million to help create the foundation. So she started soliciting investment from New York’s biggest financial institutions.

Through her lawyer, she guaranteed that she had “quite substantial” personal assets but that they were housed in international banks, so she couldn’t access them. Instead of providing verification from her banks of these numbers, prospective investors would receive an email with a list of Delvey’s assets from an AOL account in a German man’s name. (This was her manager, Delvey explained, when anyone queried the situation.) 

Her loan application was refused. And around the same time, glitches in Delvey’s matrix began to appear. 

First of all, the cash ran out. In the New York article, Neff Davis, a concierge at 11 Howard who became Delvey’s friend, recalls having to pay for a $286 dinner at a popular Soho restaurant when all 12 of Delvey’s credit card numbers were declined.

Then 11 Howard started to get antsy. Delvey hadn’t left a credit card to guarantee her reservation, and she had racked up a bill in the vicinity of $30,000. The hotel’s management wanted it to be resolved quickly and quietly. Delvey promised that they would receive their money via a wire transfer, which they eventually did. With her balance owing back to zero, Delvey continued to stay at the hotel and make charges to her room, all without leaving a credit card on file.

Eventually, 11 Howard’s management changed the lock on her room and stored all of her belongings for her to collect upon payment.  

A trip to Morocco

At the time, Delvey was planning a holiday to Morocco with her personal trainer and Rachel Williams, who was the photo editor at Vanity Fair and a friend. It was late May 2017, and New York was about to descend into a swampy, humid summer. Who wouldn’t want to swap the baking Manhattan pavement for Marrakech, where the air is swollen with spices?

The friends were staying at La Mamounia, a luxury hotel beloved of Gwyneth Paltrow, Jennifer Aniston and Orlando Bloom. Their private riad, which boasted its own pool, was costing $7,000 a night. 

Delvey told everyone she was paying, which was what she had always done. Her generosity was well known among her friends.

The only thing was, she hadn’t actually paid for anything. Williams had put the tickets on her credit card, with a promise from Delvey that she would be reimbursed. (“I did this all the time for work, I didn’t give it a second thought,” she wrote in Vanity Fair.) And when Delvey first tried to use her card in the medinas to buy some linen outfits, it was declined. She borrowed more money from Williams to pay for the outfits and dinner.

Then, La Mamounia began to get upset. Delvey had not left a credit card to guarantee the reservation. They needed a credit card, hotel employees told her. Delvey asked Williams to put her credit card down. Again, she promised she would pay her back to cover the $62,000 that Williams had paid.

“At least I knew Anna was good for the money,” Williams wrote in Vanity Fair. “I’d seen her spend so much of it.”

When they left the hotel, Delvey told Williams she would wire her $70,000 so that “everything’s covered”, meaning the hotel cost plus all the incidental expenses from the trip. This was more money than Williams made in an entire year at Vanity Fair.

Delvey returned to New York and checked into a new hotel. (Not 11 Howard, this time.) Williams chased her for the money and, each time, Delvey dodged payment.

By October 2017, Delvey’s world had crashed around her. In a report in the New York Post, Delvey was called a “wannabe socialite” who had skipped out on several hotel bills. At this point, she owed money to three separate hotels as well as the $62,000 she owed to Williams.

She was taken into custody and charged with grand larceny and theft, to which she pleaded not guilty. She was remanded without bail and has been at Riker’s Island prison ever since.

Her trial began in New York at the end of March 2018. On 29 March, the third day of her trial, she did not appear in court because “there were logistical issues with her clothes… Her clothes were dirty and not pressed.” On 26 April, her trial concluded and she was found guilty. She will be sentenced on 9 May. 

Williams’ explosive memoir of her relationship with Delvey, titled My Friend Anna, will be released in July 2019 by Quercus. In a statement, Williams said: “I am exceedingly grateful for the opportunity to share my story. No one thinks this will happen to them—but Anna was charming, connected, and smart. This is a story full of nuance and deception. It examines the role of trust in friendships and society. I hope it may help others to see the warning signs where I did not.”

What is the future for Anna Delvey?

When the stories about Delvey appeared in New York magazine and Vanity Fair, they quickly went viral.

As a result, rights to her story were snapped up by two filmmakers. One was Shonda Rhimes, who purchased New York’s story and will write the series herself as one of her first projects for Netflix. Lena Dunham is working on adapting Williams’ memoir My Friend Anna, based on her original Vanity Fair article, for HBO. 

For the rights to her life story, Netflix arranged to pay Delvey $100,000, as well as $7,500 in royalties and $15,000 in consulting fees per episode. Delvey received an initial $30,000 payment, which went towards paying her lawyers. But the remaining fees have been seized by the New York Attorney General’s office to determine whether or not they violate the state law that a criminal cannot make a profit from their crimes, the New York Post reports. In cases like these the Attorney General can rule that the money due to Delvey could go towards those that are owed. They include City National Bank, who extended a $100,000 line of credit to Delvey, as well as hotels in New York with whom Delvey has outstanding bills. 

Netflix is moving forward with the television show, regardless of whether or not Delvey will receive payment. Davis, the concierge friend of Delvey’s from her early hotel days, is helping the Netflix team on their production. In a new interview with Paper, Davis said that she is still friends with Delvey.

“She calls me every single day,” Davis told Paper. “I was like, ‘Wow, so I’m your only friend in New York.’ That’s when I realised Anna was protecting me by not telling me what was going on with her, because I would have felt obligated to not be her friend anymore. I’m not upset with her.” 

“She’s my friend,” Davis added. “But I don’t know the Anna that everyone else does. So I guess I got a piece of Anna that no-one else really saw.” 

Images: Getty


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Hannah-Rose Yee

Hannah-Rose Yee is a writer based in London. You can find her on the internet talking about movies, television and Chris Pine.

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