Who is Anna Sorokin, the subject of the new Netflix series ‘Inventing Anna’?

The woman who swindled $275,000 from New York businesses and socialites, first got a prison sentence and is now serving time in an illegal immigration facility

March 04, 2022 12:11 pm | Updated April 10, 2022 08:29 am IST

Anna Sorokin

Anna Sorokin | Photo Credit: STEVEN HIRSCH

Anna Sorokin, a Russian-born woman from Germany who was convicted in New York in 2019 for stealing over $200,000, has sued the United States’ federal immigration authorities for not providing her a Covid-19 booster shot while being detained at a facility of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in the north of New York city. 

In February 2021, after being released on parole from the Rikers Island prison in the theft case, she was soon arrested by ICE, as the U.S. government accused her of overstaying a visa and contended that she should be deported to Germany. 

Sorokin, and three others facing deportation at the ICE facility, filed a complaint in the Washington D.C. federal court on March 1, saying that ICE violated fundamental rights of medically vulnerable persons detained at the facility by ignoring their requests for booster shots of the Covid-19 vaccine.

Who is Anna Sorokin and what was she charged for? 

Anna Sorokin posed as a German heiress by the name Anna Delvy between 2015 and 2017 in Manhattan, New York. Claiming to possess a family fortune of $67 million, she defrauded socialites, financial institutions and hotels in the city for a total of $275,000.

She wore designer clothing, hopped from one luxury hotel to another giving out $100 tips to staffers, hired a private jet, and wanted to open an art gallery, all of which she said would be covered by family money. 

Sorokin, however, did not have any such family fortune. She was born in Russia and moved to Germany with her family as a teenager. Her father first worked as a driver for a trucking company in Russia which went under, after which he started a heating and cooling business in Germany. She first moved to Paris to intern for the European art and culture magazine Purple and relocated to New York in 2014, with a beaming interest in art and fashion. Earning just close to $400 a month in her initial years in New York, she would be supported by her father’s monthly earnings. 

Where is Anna Sorkin now?

She is now the subject of the Netflix drama series ‘Inventing Anna’, produced by American television producer Shonda Rhimes. 

In May 2019, a Manhattan jury convicted Ms. Sorokin on charges of second-degree grand larceny, one count of first-degree attempted grand larceny, and theft of services. She was sentenced to four to twelve years in prison by the New York State supreme court. 

The jury, however, did not convict her for one of the biggest charges she was facing — attempting to obtain a $22 million loan from a bank by showing false wealth. She was also not proven guilty of stealing over $60,000 from a friend of hers, who had to pay the amount for a trip the two of them took to Marrakesh in Morocco. 

After Sorokin’s first arrest, which was made in 2017, the state prosecutor in her case, Catherine McCaw had said, “Her overall scheme has been to claim to be a wealthy German heiress with approximately $60m in funds being held abroad. She’s born in Russia and has not a cent to her name as far as we can determine.”

Her lawyer, Todd Spodek, on the other hand, had said in court, “Fake it till you make it.. Anna had to live by it.”

How did Anna Sorokin do it? 

The scam was carried out with a combination of fake wire transfers and bank statements, multiple credit cards, bad checks deposited in banks and convincing businesses to not take advance payments. She also set up fake contact numbers and email addresses to pose as her own financial adviser and family accountant.

While taking photographs for Purple magazine in Paris, Ms. Sorokin started regular appearances at art shows, festivals and parties in Paris and around Europe, which is when she started posing as Anna Delvey, who, her acquaintances have said, had a vague European accent and claimed to have family money in Germany. She also told people she flew to overseas parties in private jets. 

When she moved to New York in 2014, she became a frequent face in the Manhattan social scene and lived a nomadic life, staying for days on end at multiple boutique hotels in New York. 

She came with the motive of realising a dream: to open a members-only art club in New York with the name Anna Delvy Foundation or A.D.F, which would host a nightclub, a bar and an art exhibit. In 2015, she befriended architect Gabriel Calatrava, convincing him to help design her club. With his help, she also found a real-estate firm to secure a venue for the said club. But whenever discussions on paying Calatrava or the landlord of the venue s came up, Sorokin would talk about wire transfers that were arriving from Germany, which never showed up.

To pay for the space and design the club, she even wanted to take up a loan of nearly $25 million. She approached two financial institutions for the same Los Angeles-based city national bank and Fortress Investment Group. During talks with City National, the bank found it difficult to establish the source of her wealth and declined to give her the $22 million loan. She had told the bank she had assets worth $60 million in UBS, Switzerland’s largest bank, but when the banker at City National asked for bank statements from UBS as proof, Sorokin sent a set of vague projection figures to the banker.

Later, she approached the Fortress Investment Group for a $25 to $35 million loan. After the bank asked for $100,000 to start the process, she managed to convince a banker at the City National Bank to extend her a line of credit worth $100,000, promising to return it through a wire transfer from Europe. This money was then transferred to Fortress, which started its due diligence process to extend the loan, but this process too involved checking the source of her wealth. When a Fortress executive insisted that he would fly to Switzerland to meet her banker at UBS, Sorokin withdrew the loan request halfway through the process. 

Fortress then wired her the remaining $55,000, which instead of paying back to City National Bank, she wired to a personal account in another bank, using the larger part of it on a month-long shopping spree and stays at luxury hotels. In the same personal account, she also deposited bad checks worth $160,000, and managed to withdraw over $80,000 before the said cheques could bounce. 

Besides the attempts to secure loans, Sorokin also defrauded at three hotels in New York. She stayed for long periods at the hotels and kept large tabs at their restaurants. The hotels, which made the error of not registering a credit card in her name, were promised wire transfers they never received. 

When the hotels threatened to lock her out of her room due to non-payment of dues, they received wire transfer slips from multiple banks, which they later realised were fake. The New York hotels she stayed at included the 11 Howard, the Beekan and the W. She only managed to pay back one of the three hotels — 11 Howard, a sum of $11,000, from the credit she had received from City National Bank. 

In 2016, Sorokin flew to Omaha from New York, to attend a conference by Berkshire Hathway, the company owned by American investor Warren Buffet. To get to the conference with one of her friends, she chartered a private jet, by convincing the private-jet operating company to let her fly on credit, once again, with the bait of holding huge assets abroad. 

Coming to the charge she was not held guilty for — a $60,000 trip to Morocco that she did not pay for. Sorokin had befriended one Rachel Williams, who at the time was a photo editor for the Vanity Fair magazine. In 2017, Sorokin took Ms. Williams on a trip to the city of Marrakesh, on the pretext that all the expenses would be covered by the former. On a six-day trip which cost $62,000, Ms. Sorokin cited a problem with her credit card, for not being able to pay any of the bills. They eventually had to be covered by Ms. Williams. A promise of a future wire transfer was also made to Ms. Williams, who only received $5,000 after months of persuasion.

How was the fraud uncovered? 

In July of 2017, Ms. Sorokin was arrested for not paying thousands of dollars for her stays at the Beekman and The W hotels, and non-payment of a $200 bill at a restaurant. After being released some months later, she was again arrested in October. 

In 2018, Rachel Willams, who Ms. Sorokin did not repay for the Morocco trip, came out with a first-person account in the Vanity Fair magazine, revealing her experience of allegedly being conned by Ms. Sorokin. This got other socialites in the city talking about their experiences. 

Later in 2018, another story in the New York magazine blew the lid on the fake German heiress by interviewing several people who came across Sorokin, including friends, associates, hotel staff and bankers. 

After spending nearly a year and a half at the Rikers Island prison, her trial began in 2019, before which she was offered a plea deal prescribing a sentence of three to nine years. She refused the deal, considering the sentence to be very long, later to be given a four to twelve year sentence by the court.

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