Rachel DeLoache Williams: How I was conned by fake heiress Anna Delvey
Anna Sorokin scammed New York’s elite out of thousands; here her ex-best friend shares her story
The story of Anna Delvey, the enigmatic con artist who deceived New York’s elite, has divided opinion. On one hand, she has been applauded as an antihero – a modern, female version of Robin Hood who ripped off the rich and faceless capitalist organisations. On the other hand, she is the embodiment of the millennial stereotype, entitled and obsessed with the seemingly perfect lifestyles seen on Instagram. Anna’s story is a tale for our times.
In May 2019, Delvey, real name Sorokin, was sentenced to between four and 12 years in prison for grand larceny. She defrauded hotels, restaurants, a private jet operator and banks out of more than $200,000 while living an implausibly lavish lifestyle in New York, telling friends and prospective scam victims that she was a wealthy German heiress. Her goal was to set up a new version of Soho House, securing herself a place in the arts scene by going to the right restaurants and clubs and Instagramming herself at the most notable new openings. All this created a credible-looking public image that convinced people that she was who she claimed to be.
The case immediately attracted international media attention. It had all the trappings of a great story – greed, glamour, deceit and money. HBO and Netflix both bought the rights, and Sorokin, who is still curating her image, wants Margot Robbie to play her.
Sorokin’s victims weren’t only high-end hotels and banks. She also scammed her best friend, Rachel Deloache Williams, an ex-Vanity Fair picture researcher. After Williams was wooed by Sorokin for months though expensive dinners, nights out and designer shopping trips, their friendship came to a dramatic head. Following an extravagant trip together to Marrakesh in May 2017, Williams was left with an astounding $62,000 bill which she divides across two credit cards. Sorokin assures her friend that she will pay her back, but the debt is never repaid. Eventually, she goes to the police and her friend’s story unravels.
“Anna is a fascinating character for better for worse, especially as a young woman,” Williams tells us. “She took on traditionally male dominated power structures when it came to financial scamming. People are interested in that. The story is timely because people are so interested in social media now and its positive and negative impact on society and the way in which it encourages people to want to build themselves as an internet celebrity.”
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Williams met Sorokin through friends in February 2015, who all believed Anna when she assured them that she was a German heiress. Instagram solidified Williams’ assumption that her new friend was who he said she was.
“Anna didn’t post on Instagram that regularly, but before I met her I saw that she had 40,000 something followers and that gave her a base line of validity in my mind. That and the fact that she knew my friends,” says Williams. “It served as an instant background check which isn’t reliable, obviously. It’s interesting to think about whether or not social media impacted Anna’s desire to simulate this lifestyle that perhaps she had seen online and on social media.”
“Her Instagram served as an instant background check, which isn’t reliable, obviously”
Williams – who has now released a book telling her story – doesn’t think anyone in her friendship group questioned Sorokin’s background. “There was a sense that she was a little bit aloof and disconnected, but only in a way that fitted with who she claimed she was: a trust fund kid who could be a little messy and who couldn’t care less about being organised about her finances,” she says. “Personally, it didn’t occur to me. I mean, how do you ever know anybody? I don’t ask someone where they’re from and think they’re making up their entire identity. She was someone who already knew my friends – she wasn’t this on-off person that I met somewhere.”
It’s hard to know specifically why Sorokin honed in on Williams as her chosen friend, and whether their friendship was real or whether there were more cynical reasons – Williams’ job at Vanity Fair, for example, which chimed in well with the world Sorokin wanted to be part of.
Befitting of a con-artist, Williams describes her former friend as intelligent, ambitious and fearless.
“She challenged my sense of propriety and encouraged to care less about what people thought – to cut loose and have some fun,” she said. “Anna crossed my path when I felt isolated and was happy to have a new friendship. The timing worked in her favour.”
She says that her strong interpersonal skills diffused Sorokin’s social gracelessness. Williams smoothed over any of her friend’s abruptness. “I was useful to her,” she recalls. “I think she was actually lonely and glad for the friendship, then there was my job and I also helped diffuse her social awkwardness. It was extremely destabilising when I realised what was going on and I kept asking what was and wasn’t real between us. I wasn’t acting when I was being her friend, so her acting like this was very painful.”
Buried among the big headlines is a simpler story – of a friend being duped by another and of intimate betrayal. “Even when I was friends with Anna, it was about the friendship,” she says. “I really liked her and I thought our friendship was real. It wasn’t so much that I was swept up in her lifestyle – we mostly just stayed in her hotel – but mostly I just got swept up in a friendship that turned out to be toxic.”
Many who have been compelled by the case have asked how Williams didn’t pick up on the signs earlier, how she allowed herself to ignore the red flags.
“It’s much easier in hindsight,” she says. “A lot of small things added up, like going out where she would forget her credit card or me having to book flights on the day we were leaving for Marrakesh, but they made sense within the context or her normal behaviour, so I was able to rationalise those things. If you look at them in isolation, they seem to be clear warning signs.”
She has learnt through therapy and self-reflection to more mindful of her impulses to be “very trusting and look for the good and want to believe people”. “I need to check that and try to see what’s right in front of me,” says Williams. “Also, I’ve learnt not to believe everything you see on social media. You can’t know someone based on their highlights reel, or this curated version of themselves. While these things may have happened, and I’m certainly addicted to Instagram, a person’s Instagram feed is not reflective of their entire being or lifestyle.”
“When you meet someone like Anna, alarm bells don’t go off immediately; it’s slower”
You might imagine that Williams would have a few trust issues given what she’s been through, but writing has been her solace. Her book – My Friend Anna: The True Story of a Fake Heiress – is available to buy now, and has allowed her to process her experience in a healthy way.
“I got stuck in my own head and I kept going through every exchange, every interaction, every memory of my time with Anna to find a deeper meaning,” she says. “I was having a hard time going through my life – I was so busy trying to remember things. I started to write to get the memories out of my head. I thought if I get everything out of paper, it was a way of exploring everything without holding onto it.”
Williams’ story is now out there in the way she wants it told, but there will still be some who say that they wouldn’t have been as easily fooled. But isn’t it true that we have all been fooled by Instagram at some point, believed a person’s highlights to be their reality, or misjudged a person’s character? Our misjudgements may not have had such dramatic consequences, but perhaps this case is more relatable than we realise – sometimes it’s easier to believe what someone tells you rather than what their actions and behaviour say.
“Before this, I probably would have told you that I was a good judge of character and I don’t know that if that’s untrue,” says Williams. “But I didn’t see Anna coming, and I’d seen the movies, I’d read the books. When you meet someone like Anna, alarm bells don’t go off immediately; it’s slower, it’s subtler. Sometimes it’s easier to believe what someone wants you to think about them, be it through social media or what they themselves tell you, rather than what how they act. As Oprah said, if someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”
My Friend Anna: The True Story of Anna Delvey, the Fake Heiress of New York City by Rachel DeLoache Williams was published by Quercus in Hardback and is out now, £16.99. read more