Episode 33 | The Fake Heiress that Ripped-off New York's Elite
It all started with money. Money Money money. It’s the ultimate bait for pretty much everything. It was the winter of 2017 in NYC, and German fashionista Anna Delvey checked in to the stylish new boutique hotel in Soho. Truth told, she wasn’t German nor was she a Delvey. She was the Russian-born middle-class Anna Sorokin, a brilliant con-artist determined to defraud New York’s wealthy elite, hotels and banks of enormous piles of cash. Under the guise of a fake moneyed heiress she began her fraudster crusade schmoozing with NY’s social elite, selling them on grand plans for a members-only art club foundation. From there the big lie began to spin wildly and impressively out of control. Chartered flights with friends to Morocco for mini vacations, Michelin-starred business lunches, lavish birthday parties at some of New York’s priciest eateries, shop til you drop shopping sprees with her girlfriends, you name it, she did it, but the alligator-armed Sorokin (ahem) Delvey never seemed to have a credit card that worked, or access to any of her many foreign bank accounts. Friends started to get suspicious and eventually so did the DA’s office.
The tussled-haired redhead slid a crisp $100 bill across the desk into the hands of Neffatari Davis, the 25-year-old concierge working the front at 11 Howard, a new boutique hotel in NYC’s SOHO district. Delvey bespectacled in chunky black Celine glasses was looking, for “the best food in Soho.” The $100 was her tip for insider info. This was the first of many such generous offerings to Davis and the rest of the staff at 11 Howard. Davis asked her name:
“Anna Delvey,” she answered in a European accent.. She’d be staying at the hotel for a month, which Davis found surprising: Usually it was only celebrities who came for such long stretches. Delvey was booked into a Howard Deluxe, one of the hotel’s midrange options, about $400 a night, with ceramic sculptures on the walls and oversize windows looking onto the bustling streets of Soho.
Over the next few weeks, Delvey stopped by often to ask Davis’s advice, good restaurants, clothing boutiques, clubs; slipping her $100 each time. Delvey already knew all the cool places to go — not only that, she knew the names of the bartenders and waiters and owners.
Some of the other hotel employees found Anna deeply annoying. Oddly ill-mannered for a rich person: Please and thank you were not in her vocabulary, like she was some kind of old-fashioned princess who’d been plucked from an ancient European castle and deposited in the modern world. According to Anna she came from modern-day Germany and her father ran a business producing solar panels. The truth was he was a truck driver and her mother ran a small convenience store. Anna quickly established herself as one of 11 Howard’s most generous guests. Staff would fight to take her packages upstairs.“Fight, because they knew they’d get a handsome tip- almost always a perfectly crisp $100 bill. Rock paper scissors was the typical way they decided who’d get the privilege. Over time, Delvey got more and more comfortable in the hotel, swanning around in sheer Alexander Wang leggings or, occasionally, a hotel robe, she ran the joint.
Delvey was preparing to launch a business, a Soho club, focused on art, with locations in L.A., London, Hong Kong, and Dubai, and Davis became her de facto secretary, organizing business lunches and dinners at high-end restaurants like Seamore’s and the hotel’s own Le Coucou.
On occasion, when Delvey showed up while the concierge desk was busy, she would stand at the counter, coolly counting out bills until she got the concierge’s attention. And although Davis had begun to think of Anna as not just a hotel guest but a friend, a real friend, she didn’t hesitate to take the cash.
Who can blame her? This was Manhattan in the 21st century, and money is more powerful than ever. Rare is the city dweller who, when presented with an opportunity for a sudden and unexpected influx of cash, doesn’t grasp for it. Of course, this money almost always comes with strings attached. Sometimes you can barely see the strings. Still, everyone makes the reach. Because here it seemed, money was the one thing that no one could ever have enough of.
For a stretch of time in New York, no small amount of the cash in circulation was coming from Anna Delvey. “She gave to everyone,- even the Uber drivers, got it good -$100 cash.
Delvey dropped cash like she couldn’t get rid of it fast enough. Her room was overflowing with shopping bags from Acne and Supreme, and in between meetings, she’d invite her hotel friend Davis to foot massages, cryotherapy, manicures (Anna favored “a light Wes Anderson pink)
Davis’s boyfriend didn’t understand why she was spending so much time with this weird chick from work. Anna didn’t understand why Davis had a boyfriend. But he was rich, she protested. He’d promised to finance her first movie. “Dump him,” Delvey advised. “I have more money.” She would finance the movie.
Her new friend, she discovered, belonged to a vast and glittering social circle. Anna Delvey seemed to know everyone. She’d taken to hosting large dinners at 11 Howard’s 5-star restaurant Le Coucou. Parties that were attended by CEOs, artists, athletes, even celebrities. One night, Macaulay Culkin popped in. He wasn’t home alone but rather being seen in one of Delvey’s grifter plays.
Despite her seemingly nomadic living situation, Anna had long been a figure on the New York social scene. “She was at all the best parties,” and always managed to connect with just the right peeps. But before her glittering life in NYC she was setting the stage in Paris. Delvey had been an intern at European scenester magazine Purple and appeared to be tight with the magazine’s editor-in-chief, accompanying him to a host of smashing events; , Coachella, Art Basel.
Soon, Anna was everywhere. “She managed to be in all the right places. It was unclear where exactly Anna came from — she told people she was from Cologne, but her German wasn’t very good — or what the source of her wealth was.
After an acquaintance introduced her to the wealthy Michael Xufu Huang, the extremely young founder of Beijing’s M Woods museum, Anna proposed they go together to the Venice Biennale. Huang thought it was “a little weird” when Anna asked him to book the plane tickets and hotel on his credit card. It was also strange, he noticed during their time there, that Anna only ever paid with cash, and after they got back, she seemed to forget she’d said she’d pay him back. After a while, Huang forgot about it too. Because when you’re filthy rich, you can afford to be forgetful. Which is maybe why no one thought much of the instances in which Anna did things that seemed odd for a richie rich: calling a friend to have her put a taxi from the airport on her credit card, or asking to sleep on someone’s couch, or moving into someone’s apartment with the tacit agreement to pay rent, and then … not doing it. Maybe she had so much money she just lost track of it.
The following January, Anna hired a PR firm to put together a birthday party at one of her favorite restaurants, Sadelle’s in Soho. “It was a lot of very cool, very successful people,” said Huang, who, while aware Anna owed him money for their Venice trip, remained mostly unconcerned about it, at least until the restaurant, having seen Polaroids of Huang and Anna at the party on Instagram, messaged him a few days later asking for Anna Delvey’s contact info. She skipped out on paying the the bill- and it was a whopper- the champagne flowed like wine as did the hors d’oeuvres and entres- racking up a tally in the thousands. Huang then realized, she was a fraudster.
As Anna bounced around the globe, there was some speculation as to where her means to do this came from, though no one seemed to care that much so long as the bills got paid.
Her circle of friends all thought she had family money. Delvey’s father was a diplomat to Russia, one friend was sure. No no no another insisted, he was an oil-industry titan. I think you have the wrong Anna; the millionaire tech CEO, was certain her family was the Delvey family that is big in antiques in Germany. That CEO met Anna Delvey through the boyfriend she was running around with for a while, a futurist on the TED-Talks circuit who’d been profiled in The New Yorker. For about two years, they’d been kind of an unlikely team, showing up in places frequented by the itinerant wealthy, living out of fancy hotels and hosting sceney dinners where the Futurist talked up his app and Delvey spoke of the private club she wanted to open once she turned 25 and came into her trust fund.
Then it was 2016. The Futurist, whose app never materialized, moved to the Emirates, and Anna went to New York on her own, determined to make her arts club a reality, although she worried, that the name she’d come up with — the Anna Delvey Foundation, or ADF — was “too narcissistic.” Oh come now Anna Delvey, too narcissistic? Is that even possible?
Early on in the ruse, Anna and architect Ron Castellano, a friend of a friend from her Purple magazine days, had scouted a building on the Lower East Side, but it turned out to be too close to a school to get a liquor license, and soon Anna had shifted her aspirations uptown. Through her connections, she’d befriended Gabriel Calatrava, one of the sons of famed architect Santiago. His family’s real-estate advisory company, Calatrava Grace, had helped her “secure the lease,” she informed people, on the perfect space: 45,000 square feet occupying six floors of the historic Church Missions House, a landmarked building on the corner of Park Avenue and 22nd. The heart of the club would be, she said, a “dynamic visual-arts center,” with a rotating array of pop-up shops curated by artist Daniel Arsham, whom she knew from her Purple days, and exhibitions and installations from blue-chip artists like Urs Fischer, Damien Hirst, Jeff Koons to name a few. For the inaugural event, Anna told people, the artist Christo had agreed to wrap the building- raising a couple eyebrows at the grandiosity of this plan, but to others, hey it’s New York fucking City!
The building’s owner, real estate developer Aby Rosen, was no stranger to the private-club genre; a few years earlier, he’d bought a midtown building and opened the Core Club, which housed an art collection. He also happened to own 11 Howard. These weren’t accidental acquaintances- Anna Delvey knew who to schmooze to her greatest benefit. She was brilliant!
Delvey soon began meeting with big names in the food-and-beverage world to discuss possibilities in the space. But a project of this size required more capital than even someone of Anna’s apparently considerable resources could manage: roughly $25 million. She contacted a prominent Silicon Valley publicist inquiring as to whether they knew anyone who would be a good cultural fit for this project. But by fall, she had changed her idea of private investors, in part because she didn’t want anyone telling her what to do.
To help secure a loan, one of Anna’s “finance friends” had put her in touch with Joel Cohen, best known as the prosecutor of Jordan Belfort, a.k.a. the Wolf of Wall Street. He was very well-connected with banks and match-makers and had the rapport she demanded.
She was synched with several large financial institutions, including LA–based City National Bank and Fortress Investment Group. In applications for multi-million-dollar loans she explained that while her personal assets were quite substantial, they were located outside the US. Noting that the loans she would receive, would be “fully secured” by a letter of credit from the Swiss bank.
When the banker at City National asked to see the Swiss bank statements, he received a list of figures from a man named Peter Hennecke sent from an AOL email address. The banker was puzzled. Why would an employee of a Swiss Bank conduct biz via an AOL email address? Flags were naturally raised but then lowered when Delvey explained. “Peter is head of my family office.” OK whatever you say Ms. Delvey.
With Delvey in fund-raising mode, the artists and celebrity friends at her dinners were gradually supplanted by men with “Goyard briefcases and Rolexes, and Hublot, like that Jay-Z lyric. At one dinner the infamous “pharma bro” Martin Shkreli joined the fray. Delvey introduced Shkreli as a “dear friend,” although it was really the first and only time they’d ever met. Shkreli a huge shyster would later be convicted of securities fraud in a massive bust. That night he played a few tracks from Tha Carter V, the delayed Lil Wayne album he’d acquired and was sworn to keep hush. All’s fair in New York fucking city!
More questions and eyebrows began to be raised. One evening Charlie Rosen, son of Aby Rosen, the owner of 11 Howard hotel, stopped in and got to talking to Davis the concierge. She mentioned that she’d recently been to visit the Park Avenue building that Anna Delvey, was leasing from his dad for an arts club.
Rosen looked confused. He didn’t appear to have ever heard of Anna or her project.
Soon it was April and Spring was poking its head through the gray New York City sidewalks. The weather was getting warm enough to sip rosé on rooftops, one of Delvey’s favorite activities. And although the circle of usual suspects she hung with was noticeably smaller, Delvey was too busy for parties, anyway, she was busy building her business. But that was not completely going according to plan.
The financier City National had turned down her loan request — a management decision was how Delvey framed it —In the meantime, Anna was having cash-flow issues and More cracks began to appear. One night, Anna asked Davis the concierge out to dinner in Soho. At the end of the meal, Delvey’s card was declined. She handed the waiter a list of credit-card numbers written in a small leather-bound book she had in her handbag. The waiter went back to his station and began entering the numbers. 12 different sets. All bogus, all declined. Davis had to foot the bill. Delvey paid her back triple the amount of the bill a few days later- $800 cash.
Soon after, Davis’s manager from 11 Howard called with a delicate issue: It seemed they didn’t have a credit card on file for Anna Delvey. Because the hotel had been so new when she arrived, and because she was staying for such an unusually long time, and because she was a client of Aby Rosen’s and a very valued guest, it had agreed to accept a wire transfer. But a month and a half later, no such transfer had arrived, and now Delvey owed the hotel some $30,000, including charges from Le Coucou that she’d been billing to her room. Things were really beginning to stink.
When Delvey stopped by the concierge desk the next day, Davis took her aside and told her that management had said Anna needed to pay her bill or she’d be asked to leave. Anna nodded, her eyes inscrutable behind her Jackie O sunglasses. There was a wire transfer on the way, she said. It should arrive soon. Then, several hours later, Anna came by the desk again and, with a mischievous smile on her face, telling Davis to expect a package. When it arrived, she opened it to find a case of 1975 Dom Pérignon, with Anna’s instructions to distribute it among the staff. How could they accept this when she hasn’t paid them? They went after her. Demanding the money or we’re locking you out.
Then something miraculous happened. Citibank sent 11 Howard a wire transfer on behalf of Ms. Anna Delvey for $30,000.
A few weeks later, Delvey was heading to Omaha to supposedly see Warren Buffett, she grandly told 11 Howard staff. One of her bankers had gotten her on the list to Berkshire Hathaway’s annual investment conference, and she booked a private jet to take her there.
But there was still a problem with her account at 11 Howard. Despite being repeatedly asked by hotel management, she still hadn’t given the hotel a working credit card, and her charges continued to mount. Following through on their warning, hotel employees changed the code on the lock of Anna’s room and put her things in storage. Concierge Davis texted Anna in Omaha to deliver the bad news. She was hardly put out, texting back about stumbling on a private dinner Buffet had arranged- rubbing elbows with a slew of VIPs including Bill Gates!
When Anna got back to 11 Howard, she made her fury known. She was going to purchase web domains in all of the managers’ names, a trick she’d learned from Shkreli: “They’re going to pay me one day.” Also, she was moving out — just as soon as she got back from Morocco. Inspired by a tweet from planet Kardashian - Delvey reserved a $7,000-a-night pad with a private butler at an opulent resort in Marrakech - the same place Khloé Kardashian. She and 2 girlfriends. Delvey was paying for everything. At least that’s what she said.
Two days into the trip, one friend came down with a nasty case of food poisoning, and returned to New York early.
Several days later, Anna called the friend sobbing. The poor thing was alone at the Four Seasons in Casablanca and there was a problem with her bank. Her credit cards weren’t going through, and the hotel was threatening to call the police. The friend was torn: On the one hand, this was not her problem, but she was a friend… Offering a prayer to the universe, she gave the hotel her credit-card number.
When Anna came back on the phone, she told her she was booking her a ticket back to New York. Delvey snuffled her thanks. Then she asked for one last hugely cheeky favor: “Can you get me first class?” What the BEEP!
A few days later, a rented silver Tesla Model X pulled up in front of 11 Howard. The phone rang to the concierge desk, “Look out the window,” said a familiar German accent. The car’s futuristic doors slowly raised up to reveal Delvey. “I’m here to get my shit!
She made good on her promise to leave 11 Howard. She was moving downtown to the Beekman Hotel. But moving didn’t stem Anna’s mounting troubles. Not only did she owe the hotel, but, over in London, Marc Kremers, the designer she’d hired to do her branding work, was getting antsy: The £16,800 fee Anna had promised would arrive by wire almost a year before had yet to materialize, and now emails to Anna’s financial adviser, the Swiss bank guy with the AOL email address, Peter Hennecke, were bouncing back. “Peter passed away last month,” Anna replied. “Please refrain from contacting or mentioning any communication with him going forward.”
Things were rapidly deteriorating for Anna Delvey in New York. Twenty days into her stay, the Beekman Hotel, having realized it did not have a working credit card on file and having not received the promised wire transfer for her balance of $11,518.59, locked Anna out of her room and confiscated her belongings. A subsequent two-day stay at the W Hotel downtown ended in a similar fashion, and by the beginning of July, Delvey was effectively homeless, wandering the streets in threadbare Alexander Wang sportswear. Anna Sorokin was starting to sweat.
Late one night, she made her way to a friend’s apartment and dialed her from outside. “I’m right near your building,”
“Do you think we could talk?”
Her friend was in the middle of a date and hesitant. But there was a desperate note in Anna’s voice. She made her way to her lobby, where she found Anna with tears streaming down her face. She suggested she call her family, She would, Anna replied, but her parents were in Africa and wanted to crash at her place for the night. The date hid in the bedroom while the trainer made a bed for her unexpected houseguest and offered her a glass of water.
The ever-cheeky and uber high-maintenance Delvey asked for Pellegrino. Ballsy. Then she went to bed.
As Anna slept, the friend’s spidey senses began to tingle. She texted the other friend that joined them in Morrocco, who told her about what had really happened at the 7000 dollar/night resort- the one Chloe Kardashian COULD afford. Apparently, after getting food poisoning and returning to NY, the credit card Anna had used to book the hotel was found to be nonfunctional, and when Delvey was unable to produce a new form of payment and a pair of threatening goons appeared in the doorway, the friend was forced to put down the balance — $62,000, more than she was paid in a year — on the Amex she sometimes used for work expenses. Delvey had promised her a wire transfer, but a month later, all she received was $5,000, and her excuses had turned “Kafkaesque.”
The following morning, lent Anna a clean (and flattering) dress, and sent her on her way with a gratis motivational speech. But when Anna walked out the door, she deliberately left her laptop behind - as though she’d be back for another night’s sleep. She was having none of it. She deposited the computer at the front desk and texted Delvey that she could pick it up there.
That evening, Anna returned. The friend had instructed the doorman to tell her she was out. After retrieving the laptop Delvey asked for access to her friend’s suite. When he refused, Delvey resolved to wait. It wasn’t until after midnight that Delvey finally left, with the laptop.
Although she felt relieved Delvey had left it soon turned to worry. She started calling the hotels to see where she was staying- they all knew Delvey.
She found out why later that month, when both the Beekman and the W Hotel filed charges against Anna for theft of services. WANNABE SOCIALITE BUSTED FOR SKIPPING OUT ON PRICEY HOTEL BILLS, blared the headline in the NY Post, which referenced an incident in which Anna attempted to leave the restaurant at Le Parker without paying. “Why are you making a big deal about this?” she’d protested to police. “Give me five minutes and I can get a friend to pay.”
But no friends arrived. It was all a misunderstanding, as Delvey told Todd Spodek, the criminal attorney she hired to fight the misdemeanor charges. Maybe the poised young woman in the Audrey Hepburn dress who’d cold-called him on his cell phone repeatedly, insisting it was an emergency until he’d agreed to come into his office on a Saturday, really was a wealthy German heiress, and her credit cards had truly gotten jammed up, or perhaps someone had taken away her trust fund. Just in case, Spodek, whose everyday clientele includes grifters, dog-murderers, femme fatales, rapists, and cybercriminals, among other miscreants, had her sign a lien on all of her assets, one that would ensure he got paid. On her way out, Anna asked a favor. “I kind of need a place to stay,” she said. Spodek demurred. The last thing his wife wanted was for him to bring his work home with him. Especially a saucy redhead that a load of peeps were gunning for.
Delvey again phoned her Morocco trip friend, who refused to invite her to stay but instead organized a powwow at a nearby restaurant, during which she and the other bilked friend attempted to get some answers: why Anna had done what she’d done, who she really was, if she’d ever planned on paying anyone back. Delvey hemmed and hawed and dissembled and prevaricated and, as the two women got increasingly angry, allowed two fat tears to roll down her cheeks. “I’ll have enough to pay everyone,” she sniffled. “Once I get the lease signed for Aby Rosen’s building …”
“Anna,”, summoning her last shred of patience. “The building has been rented by someone else!”
She held up her iPhone and showed her the headline: FOTOGRAFISKA SIGNS A LEASE FOR ENTIRE 45K SF AT ABY ROSEN’S BUILDING.
Delvey’s reply: “That’s fake news.
Oh what tangled webs she wove! As it turned out, Delvey’s hotel bills were merely the first loose threads in a web of fraudulent activity, one that began to unravel in November 2016, after she submitted documents claiming a net worth of €60 million in Swiss accounts to City National Bank in pursuit of a $22 million dollar loan. The following month, she submitted the same documents to Fortress in an attempt to secure a $25 million to $35 million loan. After that bank asked her for $100,000 to perform due diligence, she convinced a representative at City National to extend her a $100,000 line of credit, which she then wired to Fortress. Then, apparently spooked by Fortress’s decision to send representatives to Switzerland to personally check her assets, she withdrew herself from the process halfway through, wiring the remaining $55,000 to a Citibank account that she used for “personal expenses … a shop til you drop spending spree at several upmarket boutiques in the city.
Then, in April, she deposited $160,000 worth of bad checks into the same account, managing to withdraw $70,000 before they were returned, which is how she managed to pay off 11 Howard and, ostensibly, buy the domain names of the managers of the hotel.
In May, Delvey convinced the company Blade to charter her a $35,000 jet to Omaha by sending them a forged confirmation for a wire transfer from Deutsche Bank. It might have helped that she had the business card of the CEO, whom she’d met in passing at a Soho party, but who says he didn’t actually know her at all.
The two friends from the Morroccan trip, not wanting to leave Anna homeless after their intervention last summer, the trainer and a friend agreed to put Anna up at a hotel for one night, after having the hotel remove the mini-bar and giving strict instructions not to allow her any room service. She subsequently checked in to the Bowery Hotel for two nights, sending the hotel a receipt for a wire transfer from Deutsche Bank that never came. Rachel Williams, City National, and others also received phony wire-transfer receipts, which a representative of the bank identified as forged. Anna’s “family adviser,” the late Pete Hennecke, seems to have been a fictional character; well no shit Sherlock! Swiss Bank peeps don’t use AOL email addresses. Gmail yes, Hotmail perhaps but AOL!? His cell-phone number belonged to a now-defunct burner phone from a supermarket.
Later in the summer, with her misdemeanor charges pending, Delvey wasn’t to be swayed. She deposited two bad checks into an account at Signature Bank, netting her $8,200, which is how she managed to take what she said was a “planned trip” to California, where she was arrested in a sting operation outside of Passages, an addiction treatment facility in Malibu. She was brought back to New York to face six counts of grand larceny and attempted grand larceny, in addition to a shopping list of theft of services, according to the indictment.
There were no designer labels in her beige jumpsuit, her $800 hair highlights had faded and her $400 eyelash extensions long had fallen away .Life was rough at Rikers Island where she awaited trial for her multiple offenses. She looked like a normal 27-year-old girl, which is what she was- on the surface. But she seemed to be taking it all in stride- seeing her incarceration as a sociological experiment. Naturally she’d made friends. The murderers were the most interesting to her. She also warmed to a girl that was stealing other people’s identities- intrigued at learning how easy it was.
On December 18, 2018, Sorokin appeared in New York City Criminal Court and rejected a plea deal that offered three to nine years in prison; Her defense attorney Todd Spodek, arranged for a professional stylist to source outfits for her court appearances, expressing the importance that Anna dress appropriately for the trial.On the first day of the trial, Anna Sorokin refused to enter the courtroom because she didn't want to appear in her prison-issued clothing and her civilian outfit for the day "had not been pressed. Rightfully the Judge was furious and ordered Sorokin to appear.
In April of 2019, after deliberating for two days, a jury found Anna Sorokin guilty of eight charges, including grand larceny in the second degree, attempted grand larceny, and theft of services.
After serving just under 2 years of a 4 to 12 years sentence in state prison, Anna Sorokin was released on February 11, 2021, but it seems she just couldn’t follow the rules. One month later in March, she was taken back into custody by (ICE) for overstaying her visa. She is currently being held in a New Jersey county jail awaiting deportation to Germany.
What was it about Anna Delvey that opened so many doors and wallets? She wasn’t necessarily breath-takingly beautiful or super-charming; she wasn’t even very nice. How did she manage to convince an enormous amount of cool, successful people that she was something she clearly wasn’t? Anna Sorokin saw something others didn’t. She looked at the soul of New York and Paris and Berlin and probably a load of other places yet to be revealed, and recognized that if you distract people with shiny stuff, with big wads of cash, with the indicia of wealth, if you show them the money, they will be hynotized- unable to see or care about anything else. And for someone like Anna Sorokin Delvey it was so easy. Anna's was a beautiful dream , a New York dream, like one of those nights that never seems to end. And then the bill arrives.
I often wonder about con artists. Whats more enticing to them, the allure of easy cash or the high of the ruse. They are almost always very sharp individuals and genius at keeping track of the lies and excuses, and the many strands of their webs of deceit.