16 Nov 2019

The true story of fake New York heiress Anna Delvey

From Saturday Morning, 8:25 am on 16 November 2019

Anna Delvey was an ambitious young German heiress, living the high life in New York City. That’s what it looked like from the outside, and what those nearest to her thought.

In fact she was a complete con artist. Among those she took financial advantage of was her friend, then Vanity Fair photo editor Rachel DeLoache Williams, from whom she "borrowed" $62,000.

Anna Sorokin better known as Anna Delvey in court.

Anna Sorokin better known as Anna Delvey in court. Photo: AFP

In her book My Friend Anna, Williams offers first hand insight into the incredible life and crimes of Anna Delvey

Anna Delvey turned out to be Anna Sorkin. Not a German heiress but instead born to a Russian working class family. She’s now in prison.

Williams tells Kim Hill it all unravelled when Anna had tried to get a loan between $22 to $25 million from various financial institutions including a hedge fund in New York. To do that she managed somehow get roughly $US100,000 from a bank that she could put up as a deposit to the hedge fund.

When they told Anna they needed to travel to Europe to inspect her background, she pulled out of the deal. Meanwhile, she had been writing cheques; opening various bank accounts and depositing large sums of money then withdrawing the cash before the cheques bounced.

There was also the crime committed against Williams. Anna needed to reset her visitor’s visa to the United States and suggested a trip to Marrakesh, Morocco. They stayed in a luxury resort with a videographer and personal trainer in tow. When it came time to pay the bill, Williams had to stump up the $62,000.

Williams says it took a painfully long time to accept that she had been conned.

“I really had felt that I knew her as a friend and I thought that she was having a hard time. So, even though I was in such a stressful, painful, and mind-numbing situation, I kept also seeing her having a hard time.

“It took me over two months of back and forth in trying to rationalise what was happening, thinking that she was scared to tell her parents because maybe she’d had spending issues in the past or had issues with being really impulsive, maybe she was scared they would cut her off, or that she had blown through her allowance. I came up with so many ways to try and excuse her behaviour until I had no choice left.”

Williams first went to lawyers, then to the police. She finally got closure when she found her way to the New York Attorneys District Office and found out Anna was the subject of an investigation.

The lid was blown off when the New York Post ran a story on Anna. Many of the revelations in it were new to Williams. In it, she was called a “wannabe socialite”, a description that upset Anna more than anything else. 

“Anna was very concerned with being taken seriously. She really cared a lot about her image as we later saw in court. The day that article came out in the Post was the same day the trainer - who had come to Morocco - and I tried to have a sort of intervention with Anna to try and get some truth and to find a way to help her because everything was unravelling so much. 

“It was at that intervention that the news of the tabloid reached me and we saw that the problem was bigger than just us and it was beginning to come out. She did seem upset with how she was being portrayed.”

Williams describes Anna as charming, but also as rude and entitled - particularly to wait staff at bars and restaurants. So how could Williams like someone like that?

Rachel DeLoache Williams

Rachel DeLoache Williams Photo: supplied

“It’s a good question and it’s something I’ve come away from this looking at as well. When she was my friend I chalked a lot of that behaviour up to immaturity because she was younger than me, she seemed a little socially awkward at times even though she was charismatic, she seemed as though she hadn’t had somebody teach her - the way that my parents taught me - how to be polite, how to pay attention to people around. 

“But I do feel that is one of the bigger red flags - the fact I was repeatedly having to make excuses for her again and again. Not just to other people, but to myself trying to rationalise her behaviour. That was probably a good indicator that I should have stepped back sooner… but the thing is, I did really like her. I admired her ambition, she was fun, I really categorised her as a friend so I think I cut her more slack than she probably deserved.”

When Anna was in court, she had a person who would pick out expensive outfits for her to wear. It might not seem like something that would endear her to a judge or jury, and Williams can’t explain it either. 

“I was similarly baffled by it… I hate to say it, but it was very much on brand for Anna. She really had a way of peacocking and demanding attention and I think that’s part of - in our friendship - why I couldn’t look away. She was always putting on a show and you kind of just had to sit there and watch because she was sort of confounding. 

“Ultimately, I didn’t realise how deep the narcissism went and now I find it very troubling - the attention on that versus the seriousness of her behaviour and how it impacts people around her.”

Williams, after realising she had been swindled, turned the tables on Anna and began investigating her. When she eventually tracked down her location in rehab, she had Anna arrested. 

“That was extremely painful for me and it was something I certainly didn’t take lightly. Ultimately, I realised if she had done what she did to me, she would do it to anybody and I felt compelled to protect other people and it seemed like the right thing to do. But it was very hard.”

Williams wrote her own story about the entire affair for Vanity Fair where she was still working. That story was then optioned by HBO is currently being adapted by Lena Dunham of Girls fame. 

Netflix have also been involved, but have been after Anna herself. They offered $30,000 prior to the trial which she used to pay for her criminal defence. The company was also present throughout the trial, but Williams is unsure what’s happening with the project. 

Anna’s fame, or infamy, has been on the rise since the story and the trial. She’s amassed thousands of Instagram followers and the number continues to climb. Williams says it’s troubling that people consider Anna to be an anti-hero or a Robin Hood who was only robbing the rich. Williams herself does not come from a wealthy family and was ripped off by Anna. 

She says that not only did Anna owe her more than she made in a year, it was a painful betrayal by someone she considered a friend.

Anna told the New York Times after the trial her motive was never money. She said she was power hungry and that she’s not a good person. Williams thinks she’s a sociopath. 

“I had known what a sociopath was in theory, but it was very different to encounter one in real life. It’s not black and white, it doesn’t jump out at you. Of course now there are certain tells I would caution people to look for like a superficial charm or glibness. For Anna the big thing was she didn’t have any long-term relationships in her life.

“I think, to Anna, life is this game to be won… she views other people as operating the same way she does.”