New York may be a city of dreams, but when they are shattered – as fake heiress Anna Sorokin found out in a Manhattan courtroom late on Thursday – they can do so spectacularly.
Sorokin, a would-be art collector with plans to open a members-only arts club, carried out a lengthy and elaborate fraud on New York’s glitziest social strata under the name of Anna Delvey.
On Thursday, the Russian-born 28-year-old dubbed the “SoHo grifter” was found guilty of swindling hotels, restaurants, a private jet operator and banks out of more than $200,000. She faces up to 15 years in prison.
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But some of the charges in a case that has transfixed Manhattan society didn’t hold, including an alleged attempt to fraudulently obtain a $22m (£17m) loan, and an accusation that she had swindled $60,000 from a friend who had paid for a lavish trip to Morocco.
But for the most part, a jury agreed that Sorokin had fraudulently manoeuvred herself into “the best position to take money” from a social milieu that exists in a twilight of openings and events on the periphery of a tight-knit world of wealthy art collectors, dealers and auctioneers.
Prosecutors said that Sorokin’s ambition was to “live the fantasy of an extravagant lifestyle beyond her means”; her lawyers countered that her lavish presentation – court proceedings were suspended early on in the three-week trial while the defendant fussed over her choice of stylist-supplied designer outfits – were nothing more than a woman who understood that superficial glamour was key to acceptance in the circles she aspired to join.
“‘Fake it until you make it,’” lawyer Todd Spodek said during opening statements in her trial last month. Spodek conceded that his client’s practice was unethical but, he claimed, not illegal because she planned to pay everyone back. “Any millennial will tell you,” he said, “it is not uncommon to have delusions of grandeur.”
Sorokin had merely allowed people to believe what they wanted to believe, Spodek added: “Everyone wanted to believe she was a German heiress” because, in effect, “the rich help the rich.”
Not so, countered prosecutors. Forging financial statements, establishing email addresses for a fictional accountant and a fake financial adviser are not the actions of an idle fantasist.
Sorokin’s problems started when one group of financiers from whom she sought the $22m loan noticed that her passport showed she was from a Russian town despite her claim to be from Germany. But she succeeded in obtaining $100,000 from City National Bank, spending $40,000 of it on clothing and hotels, the court heard.
Photograph: Richard Drew/AP
“Making up fake accountants, making up fake documents – those are not white lies,” argued the lead prosecutor, Catherine McCaw, in her summation earlier this week.
“As proven at trial, Anna Sorokin committed real white-collar felonies over the course of her lengthy masquerade,” said the Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus Vance, after the verdict, thanking prosecutors in his office for their “resolve to ensure that Sorokin faces real justice for her many thefts and lies”.
In truth, Sorokin was nothing like the Cologne heiress with a $60m fortune she claimed to be. She was reportedly born in Russia and in 2007 emigrated to Germany where her father runs a heating and cooling business. After interning in Paris for Purple magazine, she moved to New York in 2014 with a new ambition.
She upped her look to Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent and settled into a life of boutique hotels and private jets, once booking one on credit to fly to Omaha, Nebraska, for an investor conference by the multibillionaire American investor Warren Buffett.
“She walked into my life in Gucci sandals and Céline glasses,” wrote Rachel DeLoache Williams in a Vanity Fair account of the Moroccan trip. “And showed me a glamorous, frictionless world of hotel living and Le Coucou dinners and infra-red saunas,” she continued, referring to the New York restaurant of the internationallyacclaimed gastronomer Daniel Rose.
At the centre of the alleged scam was a glossy 80-page prospectus aimed at potential investors in the “Anna Delvey Foundation”, which came with a smattering of names that would give art world insiders, some of whom became her marks, confidence to become founder-members of a private club called ADF, for the Anna Delvey Foundation.
Although the jury dismissed the DeLoache-Williams claim that she was ripped off for $60,000, the Vanity Fair picture editor may find some recompense down the road: Netflix has commissioned Shonda Rhimes, the creator of the popular television show Grey’s Anatomy, to produce a series about her exploits, possibly starring Jennifer Lawrence.
Sorokin’s conviction may also prove to be the price of education for Manhattan’s moneyed elite, many of whom entertained – and some came close to buying into – her tales of sophistication.
But as DeLoache Williams found, Sorokin’s promises often came up short. She would offer to pay for drinks and then claim to have mislaid her credit card, proffering promises to repay. The court heard she never did.
Marc Kremers, founder of a London-based design firm, Future Corp which Sorokin engaged to design the prospectus, told artnet he spent nine months trying to get paid before concluding Sorokin was a fraud. “I was just waiting for the illusion to shatter, which it did in spectacular fashion. She truly is the malignant child of the Instagram age.”