Anna Sorokin; The Ethics of Sensationalization
Written by: Jade Ellis
Edited by: Min Rebecca Yoo
Who is Anna Delvey?
Anna Delvey is the pseudonym of con-artist Anna Sorokin, who made her name by defrauding the New York social elite, including Manhattan banks out of an estimated $275,000 over the course of 5 years.
Anna Delvey arrived on the New York social scene in 2013, claiming to be a German heiress expecting to inherit $60 million from a trust fund set up by her father. On this premise, she quickly threw herself into what was described as the “upper-class crowd”, appearing at lavish restaurants, hotels, art galleries, all of which she broadcasted on social media. An interview with Sorokin revealed that at most given points in time, she would have only a few thousand dollars to her name, using fake credit and the money of others to finance her luxury lifestyle.
Despite later accounts describing her as demanding and rude to waitstaff, many testimonies speak to Sorokin’s charm and charisma. Her likability was further helped by her seeming generosity.
One of Anna’s main goals was to buy property on Park Avenue South to establish her new Anna Delvey foundation - an exclusive social club. Through acquaintances, she got in touch with a lawyer at Gibson Dunn law firm and was so persuasive in her falsification of German Bank statements that she was able to secure a loan from Fortress bank for $100,000, to finance the cost of due diligence on another loan of $22 million from City bank. Later evidence at her trial showed she had created the false documents using Microsoft Word and attempted to validate her finances through the persona of ‘Peter Hennicke’ - her family’s fake lawyer.
Throughout this period, Anna was living, primarily, in luxury hotels such as 11 Howard, The Mercer Hotel and The Bowery, all of which she ‘paid for’ using fake wire transfers, amounting to debts of over $35,000.
In May of 2017, Anna offered to cover an all-expenses luxury trip to Morocco on behalf of Rachel Williams, a friend of hers, unable to afford the trip herself. In Morocco, Delvey’s credit card was declined repeatedly which led to the involvement of hotel security and eventually Rachel’s card was put down as a temporary hold, while Anna ‘sorted out the issue with her bank’. Upon return to New York, Rachel discovered she had been charged the full $62,000, to which Anna never paid back. Rachel later played a key role in the arrest of Anna in October of 2017.
Her lawyer, Todd Spodek, argued that Anna had fully intended to pay back all her debts as soon as she was able to establish the Anna Delvey Foundation. The defense attempted to paint Anna as an opportunist, trying to ‘make her way up’ from humble origins, and compared her to the likes of Frank Sinatra. Following her trial in 2019, Anna was charged on eight accounts, including grand larceny, falsifying documents, theft of services and other felony offenses. She was sentenced in May of 2019, to four to twelve years in Rikers state prison, and required to pay restitution of $199,000, additional legal fees amounting to $75,000 and $24,000 in state fines. However, she was found not guilty on two charges. This included grand larceny in the second degree to the alleged theft from Rachel Williams. Williams took the stand against Anna, testifying to her narcissistic characteristics, but was unable to prove extortion.
Despite Anna’s numerous accounts of theft, fraud and deceit, it appears that she has actually benefited from the situation with a $320,000 payout from Netflix for the rights to her life story illustrated in the Netflix new docuseries ‘Inventing Anna’. Such payout has allowed her to relieve all remaining debts, including those of her felony charges, in full.
However, New York has a ‘Son of Sam’ Law, which intends to prevent convicts from profiting off works based on their crimes. The Offices of Victim Services subsequently froze Anna’s account, following the payment, allocating the money to overdue debts, in accordance with court orders. The Netflix payment being greater than Anna’s restitution and debt repayment leaves an estimated $22,000 left over and begs the question - what will be done with that money?
According to a Sunday Times interview, Anna confirmed that she was able to keep a portion of the money, but did not specify the exact amount. While being far from the original $320,000, the advancement in full debt repayment should be viewed as a huge burden relief, allowing Anna the potential to ‘start fresh’ if she so wished.
Overall, the question as to whether Anna should be allowed to keep any profits made from Netflix, can be summarized in two conflicting arguments.
On the one hand, Anna should be allowed to keep the remaining profits, given that any creditors or victims of her fraud, identified in the trial, have already been reimbursed. The fact she is a convict should not detract from her Rights to Publicity - intellectual property rights to protect against misappropriation of personal identity (recognized only under statute or case law).
On the other hand, Anna should not be allowed to keep the remaining profits as it sets a potentially dangerous precedent, in which crimes, such as fraud, are encouraged through sensationalization and the allure of huge profit.
The conclusion to such a question therefore depends on the balance between preserving personal liberties (a Kantian interpretation) and ensuring the most beneficial outcome for society (a utilitarian interpretation), and therefore depends on the personal viewpoint of individuals.