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Lies, lavish dinners and Lena Dunham: how Anna Delvey scammed the New York elite – and her own ‘best friend’

Anna Delvey/Sorokin attends court in New York in May
Anna Delvey/Sorokin attends court in New York in May Credit: Reuters

One Monday in April this year, Anna Delvey (born Anna Sorokin), the socialite and con artist who, since 2018, has made headlines across the world for brazenly swindling the who’s who of New York out of hundreds of thousands of dollars, sat calmly in court wearing a white lace designer dress.

It was the final day of her trial and her lawyer was comparing her to Frank Sinatra. “Sinatra made a brand-new start of it in New York, and so did Ms Sorokin,” Todd Spodek told the jury. “They both created their own opportunities.”

Only up to a point, your honour. Delvey might well have displayed an entrepreneurial spirit and a talent for reinvention beloved by the city’s inhabitants, but she also stole from banks, businesses and friends, forged emails from lawyers, and lied to everyone she met about her origins, her wealth and even her name.

Born in Russia to working-class parents, the 28-year-old spent two years living in luxury hotels for which she never paid, throwing lavish dinners for the art set at top restaurants, and fostering the persona of a rich heiress worth $60 million.

Spodek put on an impressive court performance – his strategy was to paint Delvey as an ambitious woman who simply adopted the fake-it-till-you-make it mantra of the Big Apple. But then again, the whole trial – which received more publicity than Pablo Escobar’s – was entertainment.

Delvey/Sorokin lived a jet-setting life on social media

Two Netflix staffers attended the proceedings and Delvey – dressed each day in court by Anastasia Walker, a celebrity stylist hired by Spodek – had been offered $100,000 (£83,000) by the streaming giant to act as a consultant on a drama series about her life, directed by Shonda Rhimes (the creator of Grey’s Anatomy) and based on a feature for New York magazine by journalist Jessica Pressler.

Thirty thousand of that sum was to be paid directly to Spodek, while Delvey was to be paid $15,000 per episode, plus a $7,500 royalty (although there is currently a lawsuit in motion to stop Delvey accessing this money). Delvey, who has conducted press interviews in jail since beginning her sentence of four to 12 years for theft of services and second-degree grand larceny, has requested that she should be played by Margot Robbie.

That’s if Robbie doesn’t find herself called upon by Lena Dunham first, because a rival series about Delvey’s life has been commissioned by HBO, written by the Girls creator and based on the experiences of Rachel DeLoache Williams, Delvey’s former best friend, who was scammed out of $62,000.

Is there room for both series? “I don’t view them in competition; I think there are multiple ways to tell a story,” says 32-year-old Williams, who last week published a book about her nightmare friendship, My Friend Anna, as part of a $300,000 publishing deal with Quercus. After Dunham read an abridged version of Williams’s story in Vanity Fair, where Williams was working as a photo editor until 2018, she bought the television rights for $35,000.

“I don’t feel great about Anna benefiting in any way from her crimes; especially when my own book and HBO deal were turned against me [by Spodek] on the stand, and I couldn’t even say anything about Anna’s Netflix deal because then I would look defensive. I find [her involvement with Netflix] pretty upsetting and dark,” says Williams.

Delvey/Sorokin (right) at a fashion party at the Jane Hotel in New York in 2014 Credit: Getty/Dave Kotinsky

Williams met Delvey, whose friendship circle included hotelier André Balazs, pharmaceutical boss Martin Shkreli and property tycoon Aby Rosen, in a New York nightclub in 2016, and recognised her name from Instagram (where Delvey was followed by more than 44,000 people).

Delvey told Williams about her interest in art, her plans to open a $25 million gallery, restaurant and hotel complex in Park Avenue, and after months of treating her new friend to lavish dinners, invited Williams to an all-expenses-paid trip to the Mamounia hotel in Marrakesh, at $7,000 a night.

But when Delvey’s credit cards bounced on the final day, Williams was forced to foot the $62,000 bill. Delvey swore to pay her back, but stalled on the payment for months, leaving Williams crippled by debt and then depression, relying on family loans for support.

Williams spent months emailing Delvey’s fictional accountants, and receiving forged wire confirmations, until, having received no more then $5,000 via PayPal, she eventually took Delvey to court. “Every day would get even more mind-boggling,” says Williams. “My life read like fiction.”

The book – an impressive debut written in painstaking, gripping detail from Williams’s archive of texts, online messages, social media posts, emails and photographs – charts her friendship with Delvey from beginning to end. Part Gone Girl, part study in millennial relationships, it is at once thrilling and exhausting.

Delvey was dressed in court each day by celebrity stylist Anastasia Walker Credit: AP/Richard Drew

It is also emotionally complex. While Williams describes Delvey as “sociopathic”, “like a fashion girl/finance bro trapped in a Botticelli body” – who would throw $100 bills around like confetti and repeat mantras such as “I’m so rich and so pretty” to herself in the mirror – she is also sympathetic to Delvey, excusing her as deeply lonely.

“I think now my greatest fear is not that I might see her and be angry with her; it’s that I might still like her. I still catch myself feeling sorry for her, for her lack of empathy,” admits Williams, who has no interest in visiting Delvey in prison.

Through therapy, and using the book as catharsis, Williams has now recovered from her ordeal. (Delvey was convicted on eight charges, but found not guilty of theft from Williams, because the latter signed the bill when she handed over her credit card in Morocco.)

Williams says she now barely thinks about Delvey outside of publicity. “Although I was really creeped out recently when I read an interview with one of her classmates in a Russian newspaper, who said that Anna always wanted to work for a magazine. I feel like she wanted to assume my life, or she wanted to assume my identity.

“I think she was almost studying my behaviour and the way I operated within the world because she was trying to learn from it,” she says.

Rachel DeLoache Williams's My Friend Anna is available now from Quercus Credit: Quercus

When Jessica Pressler interviewed Delvey in prison, she described life behind bars as a “sociological experiment” and told the journalist one of her most interesting conversations had been with an inmate convicted of identity theft. “I didn’t realise it was so easy,” she said.

On Delvey’s Instagram, which has 30,000 more followers than it did before her trial, the con artist has amassed a cult fan base. There are hundreds of comments with the hashtag #FreeAnna, praising her audacity.

As well as scamming hotels and restaurants, Delvey, whose father was once a truck driver, went on $55,000 shopping sprees, persuaded a private jet operator to let her fly on credit, and persuaded dozens of people to support her Park Avenue plan.

“I think there’s a big misconception around her. I think people want to cheer for somebody who is taking advantage of the financial system and taking down the New York scene which stereotypically takes itself too seriously,” says Williams. “But when you actually look at the reality of her actions, she wasn’t doing it from some noble viewpoint. She wanted to be a part of the system she was undermining. She was Machiavellian.” 

My Friend Anna: The True Story of the Fake Heiress of New York City by Rachel DeLoache Williams (Quercus, £16.99) is out now