Today’s blog is one among my series on “skilled” criminals —fences, imposters, forgers, and art thieves. There’s also a related series on “unskilled”criminals.
The hope in this blog is to fire up writers, provide info to criminology students and true-crime fans, and to, well, have some fun.
Recent Russian immigrant to the U.S. Anna Sorokin created the fictitious identity of Anna Delvey, pretending to be a wealthy German heiress. On May 10, 2019, a court sentenced her to 4 to 12 years in prison.**
The amount of time will depend on factors such as her behavior in custody, which judging from reports is less than stellar. She’s been written up from 14-30 times, the latter being her estimate.
And ICE talks of deporting her to Germany for overstaying a visa.
Home to an Imposter
Here’s a pic of Anna’s latest home in New York City, a jail, which I visited during a recent trip to NYC.
Anna must have a walk-in closet at Rikers jail. Apropos of this, a journalist wrote, “And when she fronted court in black Miu Miu [an Italian high fashion dress, part of Prada ], black choker, and wide-rimmed glasses last week – a picture of glamour despite being held in Rikers Island jail while awaiting trial – it’s clear to see how she was able to get away with it.”
Writers & Filmmakers love Imposters
Writer Walter Kirn’s Blood Will Out chronicles his relationship with “Clark Rockefeller.”* His impersonation of a Rockefeller heir led to murder.
And P G Wodehouse’s Blandings Castle and Elsewhere features many more impersonators.
Filmmakers have also had a field day with imposters. Rumor has it, in fact, that works about Anna Sorokin will soon join these films and documentariess —
- The Imposter, a 2012 British-American documentary film about the 1997 case of the French confidence trickster Frédéric Bourdin
- Catch Me If You Can, a 2002 American biographical crime drama film based on the life of Frank Abagnale. He successfully conned millions of dollars worth of checks as a Pan Am pilot, doctor, and legal prosecutor.
- The Imposters, a fun 2018 TV series cancelled regrettably after two seasons. The lead character, Maddie, starts the first season having defrauded two men AND a woman in sham marriages. Like Anna, Maddie uses her face and figure to maximum advantage. Maddie (played by Inbar Lavi) is a con artist who works with two handlers at the behest of a mysterious figure called “The Doctor.” Maddie’s MO is to make her targets fall for her while she ingrains herself into their lives to steal their valuables and assets shortly after marrying them.
A Hollywood Bonanza
Actually screenwriters should take heart in the fact that many Hollywood films utilize impersonation—esp in comedies and rom-coms. Is this becauseactors love playing multiple roles, crossdressing, and being 180 degrees opposite of who they are? Witness: The Associate, a 1996 film starring Whoopi Goldberg who disguises herself as a white man to get a job on Wall Street.
There are poseurs , too. They’re often “insincere people pretending to be someone on they aren’t.” And there are those affeccted by the imposter syndrome. This may happen if an “accidental” star or winner of some sort internalizes a fear of being exposed as a “fraud.” This might occur if fame, fortune, etc. comes too easily.
So, screeenwriters, check out this partial list of imposter films.
Terms & Definitions for Imposters
Technically, Anna Sorokin is a “fraudster.” Unlike many famous imposters who fake gender, race, nationality, military service—she engaged in fraud
In common law , fraud takes many different forms. Some are general (e.g., theft by false pretense). Some are specific to particular categories of victims or misconduct (e.g., bank fraud, insurance fraud, forgery).
Anna Sorokin, imposter
Born January 23, 1991 southeast of Moscow, Sorkin was one of two children of a father who worked as a truck driver and a mother who owned a small convenience store. The family moved to Cologne, Germany in 2007 when Anna was 16.
After high school, she briefly attended art school in London, but returned to Germany to work at a public relations firm. She then moved to Paris to become to be an intern for Purple, a French fashion, art and culture magazine. At that time she started calling herself Anna Delvey.
She soon moved to New York City. She told her friends and others that she had a €60 million trust fund that was held in overseas banks and would cover her lavish hotel stays and life style. The story about her family’s money would change multiple times, and included having a father as a diplomat or oil/solar panel magnate.
Many who knew her as an heiress, were told about her attempts to set up an art foundation that was funded by a family trust, and her plan to lease a night lounge, bar, art galleries, studio space, restaurants, and a members-only club.
She passed as one of Manhattan’s socialites and stayed at trendy hotels, ate at James Beard Award winning restaurants, and regularly visited spas and salons.
Sorokin would get her friends and traveling companions to pay for large amounts of the trips that they took together, if not all of it by claiming that she had checked her wallet with her luggage, or guilting the friends to cover the cost when her card would be declined. Many others didn’t see the red flags when they were asked to pay for things, as Sorokin would claim that she had difficulty moving her assets from overseas, and would laugh it off as forgetfulness when they would have to hound her to pay them back.
She would lavish her friends with expensive presents, pick up the bill for meals and parties, tip $100 notes to Uber drivers, and buy expensive gifts for the employees at the various hotels where she lived.
Until she couldn’t keep up the act any longer.
After her arrest in 2018, Sorokin appeared in New York City Criminal Court on December 18 and rejected a plea deal. It would have her released from jail and deported back to Germany. She decided to go to trial, during which the prosecutor said Sorokin seemed to “revel at the plight of her victims” and that she “showed more concern for her attire than the emotions of those she hurt.”