Here at Smith Brandon International, we watched with some interest the recent conviction of con artist Anna “Delvey” Sorokin. For years, the Russian-born Ms. Sorokin claimed to be a German heiress, situating herself within New York’s wealthy party circles while seeking funding for a private club and arts foundation. As she skipped out on bills for boutique hotels, luxury travel, and lavish events, she repeatedly convinced friends and acquaintances to cover her tabs. All the while, she kept seeking $20+ million loans, despite being stymied by effective due diligence.
The interesting part of Anna Sorokin’s scheme is not that it’s particularly novel; it’s that it has an almost retro or Hollywood feel to it (which might explain Shonda Rhimes and Netflix’s interest in her story).
The lavish lifestyle, the promises that were just a little too good to be true, the convoluted credit problems that always take just a little bit longer to sort out…: these are all staples of con artists’ deceptions, both real and fictional. In fact, these elements have shown up again and again in real life schemes carried out by fraudsters like Giselle Yazji (aka Giselle Jaller), Keisha Williams and Derek Alldred.
But part of what sets Sorokin apart has been her media savvy. She used her 40,000 Instagram followers to establish credibility with real world service providers, rather than trying to use them as a source for direct profit (unlike, say Fyre Festival). Her use of a stylist during her trial garnered her curious media coverage from outlets like Elle and GQ, which don’t often cover larceny or fraud proceedings. Her unrepentant attitude resulted in continued post-conviction coverage by major media outlets, allowing her to announce that she’ll be working on two books while incarcerated. In all, she was able to effectively manipulate various media to develop new angles on top of her somewhat traditional heiress scheme.
Ultimately, Sorokin was convicted on eight of the ten charges filed against her, and will serve between four and twelve years in prison. She will have to pay $200,000 in restitution and will likely be deported following her prison term. Her case should serve as a reminder that effective due diligence before issuing a loan or engaging a new business partner can be a lifesaver. After all, online personas can be manufactured or manipulated, and deals that sound too good to be true often are.