Netflix‘s buzzy new show Inventing Anna is about to introduce a worldwide audience to Anna Delvey, the “fake German heiress.” In case you’ve not been following, Delvey was convicted on multiple counts (including second-degree grand larceny) and sentenced to four to 12 years in prison in 2019. Her crimes range from defrauding luxury boutique hotels and hiring a private jet and forgetting to pay for it to convincing a bank to give her a $100,000 line of credit and basically “borrowing” (or attempting to borrow) a bunch of money she shouldn’t have. The expression “go big or go home” has never been more apt.
Delvey’s story came to light after two articles about her were published by high-profile outlets in 2018. Firstly, Rachel DeLoache Williams’s account of her friendship with Delvey was published by Vanity Fair in April 2018 and detailed how the so-called heiress had scammed her out of $62,000 during a luxury vacation. (Williams followed it up with her book, My Friend Anna: The True Story of a Fake Heiress, which is reportedly getting the Lena Dunham/HBO treatment).
Then came Jessica Pressler’s 2018 New York Magazine article, which Inventing Anna is based on. Unlike Williams’s personal account of life as Delvey’s friend, Pressler researched the heck out of Delvey’s story, interviewed her repeatedly, and tried to understand where she was coming from and why she did what she did.
Netflix’s Inventing Anna takes a (semi-fictional) look inside Delvey’s almost-successful reign. But how did the faux socialite scam bankers and defraud Manhattan’s elite (as Gossip Girl might wonder)? Here’s what you need to know about Anna Delvey.
IS ANNA DELVEY EVEN HER REAL NAME?
No, Anna Delvey’s real name is, in fact, Anna Sorokin. While Sorokin has claimed that Delvey was her mother’s maiden name, her parents told New York Magazine that they’d never heard of it. It would seem that Delvey was just another way Sorokin attempted to hide her Russian heritage, and she’d later tell ABC News, “I just came up with it.” Plus, celebrities change their names all the time, right?
The claim that she was German wasn’t entirely a lie. As reported by New York Magazine, while Sorokin was born in Russia in 1991, her family moved to Eschweiler, Germany, in 2007. She remains a German citizen, and her parents still reside in the country, along with her younger brother.
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Sorokin attended a high school “outside Cologne, near the Belgian and Dutch border,” per Pressler, but it’s unclear if she really had the Mean Girls–esque experience portrayed in Inventing Anna. Instead, she was simply described by some former classmates as “quiet.”
Sorokin left Germany for London, but soon dropped out of Central Saint Martins, the hip art and design school that counts Sarah Burton, Giles Deacon, Christopher Kane, and Zac Posen as alumni. After a brief stint in Berlin, she moved to Paris for an internship at Purple magazine in 2013, but by the summer, she was bored and ended up at New York Fashion Week. A transfer to Purple‘s NY office ensued, but she would quit soon thereafter, opting to become an heiress with an indiscernible backstory instead.
IS ANNA’S FAMILY RICH?
Sorokin’s con mainly hinged on the lie that her father was rich and she had a sizeable trust fund. Contacts reportedly formed their own opinions about the source of Delvey’s wealth, suggesting her father was perhaps a Russian diplomat or an oil-industry tycoon. She allegedly told the architect son of famed architect Santiago Calatrava that she was a trust fund baby with a net worth of 60 million euros. She would also regularly give out crisp $100 bills as tips. (Same.)
However, Pressler quickly disproved claims regarding Sorokin’s wealth, writing, “Her father had worked as a truck driver and later as an executive at a transport company until it became insolvent in 2013, whereupon he opened a heating-and-cooling business specializing in energy-efficient devices.” Basically, Sorokin was just a chic normal (like the rest of us?).
Speaking to New York Magazine, her parents revealed that they supported Sorokin’s living expenses for a time after she left home. “She assured us these costs were the best investment,” they said. However, it seems that Sorokin isn’t close with her parents anymore, like, at all, as they skipped her trial altogether, and she called them “conservative” to The New York Times. Conservative about million-dollar fraud, or politics?
HOW DID SHE CON SO MANY PEOPLE?
After moving to New York in 2013, Sorokin started going by the name Anna Delvey and reportedly ingratiated herself with the city’s art crowd. Art collector Michael Xufu Huang was one of her first friends, and she piggybacked on a trip he was taking to the Venice Biennale Art Festival at his expense. He started to suspect her of being a fraud in the intervening months. But the quick and easy way with which she made friends with influential people is undoubtedly how she convinced so many to part with so much.
Sorokin was known to stay in expensive hotels, dine at the best restaurants, travel via private jet, and network aggressively. Her reputation most definitely preceded her. So when she attempted to secure loans in excess of $20 million to start The Anna Delvey Foundation, a social club and gallery space complete with high-end eateries (Nobu!) and hotel rooms, hedge funds and banks initially bought the idea. However, while attempting to secure the outrageous capital, Anna forged financial documents, impersonated fake financial advisers and accountants, and lied about the source of her (imaginary) funds. All these details and more would eventually lead to her conviction.
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Rachel DeLoache Williams was another of Sorokin’s new friends who, at the time, was a photo editor at Vanity Fair. She’d later reveal that the only way she could keep up was because Sorokin “paid for everything.” Williams and Sorokin became friends after a chance meeting at a nightclub. In Inventing Anna, Williams (portrayed by Scandal‘s Katie Lowes) catches a lot of flak, and her own account of events is probably the reason why. As Williams wrote of her first meeting with Sorokin in Vanity Fair, “I’d seen her on Instagram, smiling at events, drinking at parties, oftentimes alongside my own friends and acquaintances. I’d seen that [Anna] had 40K followers.” Unbeknownst to Sorokin, Williams would later be complicit in her arrest.
Sorokin may have been routinely evicted from hotels she didn’t pay for, but it was a trip to Morocco with Williams, a personal trainer, and a videographer that led to her downfall. Sorokin failed to provide a source of payment for the vacation, leading Williams to give her card details to the hotel under duress. The hotel charged Williams’s personal and work credit cards the devastatingly huge amount of $62,000, which Anna never repaid. As a result, Williams pursued legal action, emailing the District Attorney’s Office to say, “I think this girl is a con artist.” Notably, the jury found Sorokin not guilty of defrauding Williams, presumably because she benefited from Sorokin’s lifestyle too.
SORRY, NOT SORRY?
In 2019, Sorokin gave an interview from Rikers Island, the jail she’d been held in since 2017. Of her crimes, she told The New York Times, “The thing is, I’m not sorry. … I’d be lying to you and to everyone else and to myself if I said I was sorry for anything.” However, she telegraphed a little attrition by noting, “I regret the way I went about certain things.”
Her tune appeared to change when she was up for parole; at an October 2020 hearing, she said (via New York Post), “I just want to say that I’m really ashamed and I’m really sorry for what I did. … I completely understand that a lot of people suffered when I thought I was not doing anything wrong.” After making $320,000 for selling her life story to Netflix, Sorokin settled her fines and paid restitution to her victims, which is certainly … a gesture.
Regardless of whether or not she’s repentant, Sorokin was released from prison in February 2021 after serving four years of her sentence. Posting a hotel bed selfie soon after, Sorokin wrote on Instagram, “Prison is so exhausting, you wouldn’t know.”
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Sorokin’s freedom, however, was short-lived; she was taken into custody by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in March 2021 for overstaying her visa. She remains there and is awaiting deportation back to Germany. Despite this setback, Sorokin is working on a variety of projects, including a fashion line, NFTs, and two books (“I guess I’m fortunate enough to go to real prison, so I’ll have more material,” she told The New York Times). She still has an Instagram account, as does her friend Neff, who plays a key role in Inventing Anna.
In September 2021, Sorokin told ABC News, “I would like to show the world that I’m not this dumb, greedy person that they portrayed me to be.” Well, you can watch Inventing Anna and decide for yourself.
This article originally appeared on Harper’s BAZAAR US.