How to buy friends and influence people

Lessons in social climbing from Anna Delvey

(Words by)
Nimrod Kamer

Anna Delvey is in ICE custody. After initially being released due to Covid and other extenuating Circumstances, the con-queen may soon get deported from the United States altogether. An immigration judge ruled on April 6th, 2021 against her re-release, siding with an ICE attorney who claimed that Anna’s Instagram posts show she hasn’t been rehabilitated and is a “danger to society.” 

For the time being, Miss Sorokin — as she is properly known — will remain in Bergen County jail in New Jersey. This part of her saga will not make it into Shonda Rhimes’ upcoming miniseries “Inventing Anna”, starring Julia Garner as Sorokin and Laverne Cox as Neff Davis, the concierge at 11 Howard Hotel. 

Her tale could have ended differently. Anna didn’t have to go to jail in the first place, let alone go back in for a second time, after her first triumphant covid-related release in March. Top grifters should know how to change identity and switch countries as soon as they’re released. One must never fish in the same pool twice — let alone attempt to wallow in their own infamy. Sorokin gave interviews to Tatler and a dozen other publications, in an attempt to make even more money off a crime already committed, and sold her life rights to Netflix. 

But she should have lain low and stayed silent. Anna could have moved on to scam somebody new, somewhere else; maybe even indulged in a little social climbing. Instead, she attempted to become a celebrity: talking on Clubhouse, where she was fawned over by actress Julia Fox and the NFT crowd; planning a New York gallery exhibition. 

For one thing, her attempts to earn money ‘legitimately’, were completely off-brand. Scammers aren’t TikTok stars. They aren’t supposed to be available to the media. Stick to what you’re good at. At the very least, Anna should have cut a deal with the NY District Attorney to exit the US voluntarily and agree to never come back. Then, after moving back to her parents’ custody in Germany she could simply disappear again and resettle in Hong Kong, with a new identity (Bella Sorokin?). There are so many bigger and more gullible tycoons and affluencers in Europe and Asia to scam — especially if you throw the word “foundation” around.

"She should have lain low and stayed silent..."

At one point, public opinion actually started to change in Anna’s favour — mainly because she did jail time and was portrayed as a victim. People imagined her to be fun, mischievous and charismatic in jail, and some even wanted to invest in her new ventures, aware of her unique set of skills. Anna was tempted — but as a rule, scammers on parole should refuse taking money from people who know their grift and want to invest anyways. It defeats the purpose. Some wealthy individuals are actually happy to see their money evaporate for good PR, but that is a meta-level-scheme that’s not funny and not even a con. Sadly, it’s where Anna was headed to before ICE took control of the situation.

Grifting, you see, is an art form. It must be done right and with great care. The main thing I learned from Anna, when meeting her at her prime (Beekman Hotel, New York, circa 2018) was the power of gratuity. Ronald Reagen famously said: “speak softly and carry a big stick.” Anna’s version might as well have been: “Speak obnoxiously and carry a big tip.” 

Cash is king, especially in the age of contactless payments. It brings back anonymity and an untraceable façade, like sending a fax in the age of Whatsapp — a piece of paper you cannot ignore or forget; the precise opposite of spam. Its power allowed Anna to be so rude to everyone, and remain utterly charisma-less. I was amazed at the amount of social cachet she held at her pomp — working for Billy McFarland, booking private jets, knowing which new hotels are a target for payless accommodation, scamming $60,000 off a gullible journalist in Marrakech. Soon, we headed up to the Beekman rooftop, and Anna announced she was considering buying China Chalet, then the hottest club in NYC, which is basically an old-school Chinese karaoke restaurant.

At one point, Anna said she had a meeting with André Balazs, though it turned out she meant Andre Saraiva — a classy mix up of the two French hoteliers. But it didn’t matter. Neither of them ever showed up at the Mercer Hotel in SoHo. The meeting was supposed to take before that famous Marrakech trip that Anna took with Vanity Fair writer Rachel DeLoache Williams. (Later on, DeLoache Williams became hated by the New York media bubblers on Clubhouse herself, after she wrote a book about Sorokin, effectively using Anna even more than Anna used her — which is impressive.) It was the writer’s first ever visit to Africa, and it ended with the pair getting kicked out of La Mamounia Hotel. 

I later stayed at 11 Howard, the infamous venue of Anna’s longest non-paid staycation. The manager told me how she seemed to them as just another Russian tycoon, or the daughter of an heiress of some kind, like many others they have to put up with and pretend to like. She kept pitching her cockamamie members club idea to randoms, who mostly smiled and said how genius it all sounded. The concierge, Neff, became Anna’s best friend and hung out with her throughout the get-out-of-jail Tatler period; they pretty much lived together in the ugliest, most characterless new-build apartment complex in the world, Hudson Yards.

 Local influencers and journalists kept visiting her, complimenting her skills, asking whether there were any tiny prison scams she was involved in, but not really getting any new headlines. Anna still went by Delvey, a name no one else ever used, perhaps her biggest invention. Because of legal issues (making a living from your crime is forbidden under US law), New York Magazine writer Jessica Pressler, who wrote the original Delvey story that the Netflix show is based on, ended up making a lot more money than Anna, ironically. 

Delvey can still reinvent herself, if she only leaves New York finally and starts from scratch. There is hope. The Talented Ms. Sorokin has what it takes to scam the world one more time. And no amount of infamy could stop a cast of new, wannabe affluencers from falling for her magnetically awful personality. 

Want more long reads? Here are Simon Kidston’s memories of the Mille Miglia…

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