When Anna Sorokin stood trial in New York in the spring of 2019, charged with fraud after scamming hotels, banks and other members of Manhattan’s elite out of hundreds of thousands of dollars, she reportedly employed the services of a stylist to ensure she looked the part.
For years, Sorokin had been known as Anna Delvey, a wealthy German heiress with a taste for expensive wine, private jets and designer clothes. She had become a social media sensation; even during her court hearing, an Instagram account documented her outfits – a mix of designer and high street, and always her signature thick-framed glasses – throughout.
Despite facing conviction, the glamorous Manhattan socialite character she had invented for herself seemingly never faded. Prosecutors say Sorokin stole from others while pretending she had a fortune of €60m (about £51m) – wheedling her way into the upper echelons of society through multiple acts of swindling in 2016 and 2017, funding a life she should never have been able to afford.
Sentenced to four to 12 years in prison, with time served following her arrest in 2017 taken into account, she was released on good behaviour in February 2021. However, she was detained once again by immigration officers a couple of months later. Now in her early 30s, she is currently awaiting deportation back to Germany.
A new Netflix series, starring Ozark star and Emmy winner Julia Garner in the titular role, dramatises her story. Based on a New York magazine journalist’s 2018 investigation into Sorokin, the series is all “completely true”, promises the trailer – “except for the parts that are totally made up”.
Conning New York’s elite
Born in Russia, Sorokin moved to Germany with her family as a teenager. After finishing school, she spent time in London and Paris before introducing New York to “Anna Delvey” in 2013. Her father, she claimed, was a diplomat or an oil baron, and she was the heir to his fortune. In reality, he is a former trucker who runs a heating and cooling business, according to New York magazine.
She conned her way into the city’s best parties and high-end hotels, promising funds were on their way and using generous cash tips to convince staff she was good for it.
Sorokin used forged bank statements to seek a loan of £16m from a bank to fund a private arts club she wanted to open in Manhattan, prosecutors said. While this was denied, she did persuade one bank to give her a loan of £74,000 – and used about £22,000 of this to cover overdue bills at the fashionable 11 Howard hotel, where she was living.
The fraudster also deposited bad checks amounting to £11,000 in an account with Signature Bank, managing to withdraw £6,000 in cash before they bounced, and used fake wire transfer receipts to trick victims.
In all, prosecutors accused her of stealing £202,000 – including a £26,000 bill she failed to pay for a plane chartered to and from a shareholders meeting for Berkshire Hathaway, a multinational conglomerate, in Omaha, Nebraska.
She was eventually arrested in 2017 with “not a cent to her name, as far as we can determine”, prosecutor Catherine McCaw said at the time.
‘I am stunned by the depth of deception’
At the end of her trial, Sorokin was found guilty by a jury of four counts of grand larceny and four counts of theft of services.
Jurors acquitted her of two counts, including an allegation that she promised a friend an all-expenses paid trip to Morocco and then left her with the £45,000 bill. She was also found not guilty of one of the most serious charges in the indictment: attempting to steal more than £730,000 from City National Bank.
Judge Diane Kiesel said the defendant had been “blinded by the glitter and glamour of New York City” and turned down a request by her lawyers to sentence her only to the time she had already spent in jail awaiting trial.
She also ordered Sorokin to pay nearly £150,000 in restitution and a £17,000 fine.
“I am stunned by the depth of the defendant’s deception,” Kiesel said, and also referenced the scammer’s online following. “I know she is a trendsetter and an influencer… so I think the message should be to the defendant and many of her fans out there that this has consequences.”
Todd Spodek, Sorokin’s defence attorney, told the court Sorokin had been “buying time” and always intended to settle her debts, portraying her as an ambitious entrepreneur rather than a criminal – but this characterisation was rejected by prosecutors.
What has Sorokin said about Inventing Anna?
Created and produced by Shonda Rhimes (Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, How To Get Away With Murder), the series is inspired by the 2018 New York Magazine article How Anna Delvey Tricked New York’s Party People by Jessica Pressler.
Anna Chlumsky (Veep, My Girl) plays a fictionalised version of the journalist, named Vivian Kent in the show.
Sorokin wrote an essay for news site Insider ahead of its release, saying she had paid her restitution – highlighting a report saying she had used money paid to her by the streaming platform to do so.
However, she said she would not be watching while in custody.
“Even if I were to pull some strings and make it happen, nothing about seeing a fictionalised version of myself in this criminal-insane-asylum setting sounds appealing to me,” she wrote.
“For a long while, I was hoping that by the time Inventing Anna came out, I would’ve moved on with my life. I imagined for the show to be a conclusion of sorts summing up and closing of a long chapter that had come to an end.
“Nearly four years in the making and hours of phone conversations and visits later, the show is based on my story and told from a journalist’s perspective. And while I’m curious to see how they interpreted all the research and materials provided, I can’t help but feel like an afterthought.”
‘I wanted to see her as unfiltered as possible’ – Julia Garner
As part of her research for the show, Garner visited Sorokin in prison and spent hours watching recorded interviews of the woman she was portraying.
Speaking to Sky News’ Backstage entertainment podcast co-host Stevie Wong, the actress said there were many questions she wanted to ask but had to find a balance.
“Obviously I wanted to ask Anna certain questions, but you also want to feel it out because they’re sensitive questions and… you don’t want to push things too much. But I kind of anticipated that she wasn’t going to give the answer to certain questions just because Anna is such a private person and doesn’t give all of the information about herself in a way. But I really wasn’t expecting any answers. I just wanted to see what her energy was like and her spirit.”
Garner said she chose not to record their meetings or take notes. “I kind of wanted to go in there not recording anything, not documenting anything, because a dynamic changes as soon as somebody feels like they’re being watched or seen – not even because it’s Anna, I’m saying anybody, there’s an instant filter.
“I just wanted a sense of her being comfortable talking to me… I wanted to just see her as unfiltered as possible.”
Garner said she was “taken aback by how bubbly” Sorokin could be. However, she said her mood could change: “There was many moments where she was extremely soft spoken, but then she went from light to dark within seconds.
“I felt like it was this interesting combination of things, and it made things more confusing. But at the same time, it also made more sense – why she was able to do what she did.”
Inventing Anna is out on Netflix now