This true story of New York’s fake heiress is jaw-dropping – so Netflix snapped it up

Anna Delvey’s life as a jet-set con artist is so fantastic a ten-part series is in the pipeline. Michelle Davies charts how Anna almost got away with tricking Manhattan’s party people…

fake heiress

Anna Delvey’s life as a jet-set con artist is so fantastic a ten-part series is in the pipeline. Michelle Davies charts how Anna almost got away with tricking Manhattan’s party people…

Words by Michelle Davies

The same question crops up time and time again when the story of ‘SoHo Grifter’ Anna Delvey is discussed: how on earth could people not have guessed sooner she was a con artist? She was, after all, a heating engineer’s daughter from Russia and not the German multi-millionaire heiress she claimed to be. In fact, she barely spoke German at all. Why did it take four years and for her to scam $275,000 before anyone saw Sorokin for who she really was?

That question, and others beside, will be addressed in Netflix’s just-announced dramatisation Inventing Anna. Across ten one-hour episodes it will reveal how the pale-faced, red-headed 22-year-old whose real name was Anna Sorokin managed to deceive Manhattan’s moneyed society into believing she was a high flier with millions in the bank and the business nous to open an exclusive members’ only arts club.

The series, starring Ozark’s Julia Garner (Sorokin had said she wanted Margot Robbie to play her), will undoubtedly revive horrible memories for those she conned. In particular Rachel DeLoache Williams, a former Vanity Fair picture editor who ended up $62,000 in debt after Sorokin tricked her into paying for their stay in a Marrakech five-star resort that she’d organised.

fake heiress

Julia Garner (Getty Images)

From intern to heiress

‘Before this, I probably would have told you that I was a good judge of character and I don’t know if that’s untrue,’ said Williams, who wrote a book, My Friend Anna: The True Story Of A Fake Heiress, about her experience. ‘But I didn’t see Anna coming. When you meet someone like [her], the alarm bells don’t go off immediately it’s slower, it’s subtler. Sometimes it’s easier to believe what someone wants you to think about them, be it through social media or what they themselves tell you, rather than what how they act.’

Sorokin’s story begins in 2013, when ‘Anna Delvey’ moved to Manhattan from Paris, where she’d worked as an intern at the fashion magazine, Purple. On arriving in New York she introduced herself as an heiress from Germany worth $67 million; in reality her family moved from Russia to Cologne when she was 16 and while her father ran his own business, he later told reporters categorically ‘there is no trust fund’.

fake heiress

Anna at a party in Manhattan in 2014 (Getty Images)

Sorokin built up a 40k Instagram following going to the best parties and events and those she socialised with blindly accepted her explanation that her fortune was held in a trust fund overseas. She certainly played the part of a well-heeled visitor from overseas, staying in the trendiest hotels, including the Beekman and W Downtown, eating in the most expensive restaurants, and ordering private jets to take her to California. ‘The world was charmed when she was around—the normal rules didn’t seem to apply. Her lifestyle was full of convenience, and its easy materialism was seductive,’ Williams later wrote in an essay for Vanity Fair.

Yet unbeknown to her new circle Sorokin was racking up tens of thousands in unpaid bills and she’d also tried to persuade banks to loan her money using forged documents. Her scamming finally came to an end in 2017 when she was arrested on six charges of grand larceny involving sums of money totalling approximately $275,000. In April this year the now 28-year-old was sentenced to four to 12 years in prison after a jury found her guilty of second-degree larceny, theft of services and one count of first-degree attempted larceny. She was found not guilty of another charge of attempted grand larceny in the first degree for trying to fraudulently borrow a $22 million loan from a bank to launch a private art club in Manhattan and for a charge of theft for $60,000 relating to her and Williams’ Morocco trip.

fake heiress

Author Rachel DeLoache Williams (Getty Images)

Courtroom haute couture

The Netflix drama, produced by Scandal showrunner Shonda Rhimes and due to air next year, is based on Jessica Pressler’s article How Anna Delvey Tricked New York’s Party People, which was published in New York magazine in 2018 while Sorokin was on remand. The piece references Williams, who right up until her friend’s arrest was still trying to recoup the $62,000 from her, which she’d been forced to split across two credit cards. Being in so much debt affected her deeply, ‘It was devastating. I couldn’t sleep. I would wake up in the morning in a panic. I actually couldn’t breathe. I hyperventilated a lot. I mean, my hair fell out.’

Yet the intrigue Sorokin inspired before her arrest was nothing compared to the public’s fascination with her during her trial. In a show of grandiose defiance, she hired stylist Anastasia Walker to dress her for her court appearances, swapping her prison threads for pieces by Mui Mui, Victoria Beckham, Michael Kors and Yves Saint Laurent. Prosecutor Catherine McCaw remarked Sorokin ‘showed more concern for her attire than the emotions of those she hurt’. Indeed, there were days when the proceedings were held up because Sorokin would have a tantrum behind the scenes that she didn’t have anything decent to wear.

Sorokin during her trial in April 2019 (Getty Images)

After buying the rights to Pressler’s 2018 article for an undisclosed sum, Rhimes and Netflix approached Sorokin while she was on remand to buy the rights to her personal account, which she agreed to sell for $100,000. However, in May this year the state Attorney General’s Office in New York invoked a piece of legislation known as ‘Son of Sam Law’ to block her from receiving any payment or profits – in addition to the lump sum, her Netflix contract stated she was to receive $7,500 per episode in royalties and a further $15,000 per episode as a ‘consulting fee’.

‘Son of Sam Law’, named after the infamous serial killer Sam Berkowitz, who killed six people in a murder spree in New York during the Seventies, prevents any convicted felon receiving ‘profits from a crime’ – and the AG’s Office filed a court petition demanding all monies from Sorokin’s Netflix deal is paid to her victims instead of to her. So far Sorokin hasn’t appealed against the petition.

Joining Garner in the cast of Inventing Anna will be Scandal alumni Katie Lowes as Williams, Orange Is The Black’s Laverne Cox as Kacy Duke, a celebrity trainer and life coach also caught up in Sorokin’s deceit, and Anna Chulmsky, last seen in Veep, as a reporter who starts investigating Sorokin. The real-life Williams, meanwhile, has signed a deal with HBO to produce a drama based on her book, with Lena Denham adapting it for the screenplay.

Sorokin will be deported to Germany on her release but plans to move to London. She already has ties to the capital, having moved here from Germany when she was 19 to enrol on at art course at Central Saint Martins. She dropped out and then moved to Paris to begin the magazine internship that first gave her a taste for the finer things in life. When interviewed by the New York Times in prison the day after her conviction – a meeting for which she wore her khaki inmate jumpsuit with Céline glasses – Sorokin said her motive ‘was never money. I was power hungry’. Yet when the reporter asked if, given the chance, she’d do the same things again, Sorokin laughed and said, ‘Yes, probably so.’

Niamh McCollum

Niamh McCollum is Features Assistant at Marie Claire UK, and specialises in entertainment, female empowerment, mental health, social development and careers. Tackling both news and features, she's covered everything from the rise of feminist audio porn platforms to the latest campaigns protecting human rights.

Niamh has also contributed to our Women Who Win series by interviewing ridiculously inspiring females, including forensic scientist Ruth Morgan, Labour MP Stella Creasy and ITV’s former Home Affairs Editor Jennifer Nadel.

Niamh studied Law in Trinity College Dublin. It was after enrolling in a Law & Literature class on her year abroad in Toronto that her love of writing was reignited. In no particular order, her big likes are Caleb Followill, hoops, red wine, sea swimming, shakshuka and long train journeys.