Fake Heiress

Rating:
4.5/5

Name: Fake Heiress

Presented By: Vicky Baker, Chloe Moss

Year: 2019

Genre: Crime

No. Of Episodes: 6

Episode Length (Average): Around 30 mins

Since I’ve gone back to working in the office after lock down, (and been stuck in traffic commuting!) I’ve been listening to more podcasts and thought it would actually be quite a good category on the blog.

Most recently I’ve been listening to Fake Heiress, a BBC Sounds podcast about the story of Anna Delvey.

I first read about this story in an article in the Sunday newspaper. The article was written from the perspective of Rachel DeLoache Williams, someone who was a friend of Anna Delvey and one of the many people she had conned out of many thousands of dollars.

For those who don’t know the story, Anna Delvey lived in New York and was due to come into a $67m dollar trust fund from her rich German parents, when she turned 26. She planned to use this money to set up the Anna Delvey Foundation, an art gallery and exhibition centre in New York. During her time there, she enjoyed lavish champagne lunches and stayed in luxurious penthouse suites in the best hotels in the city, whilst simultaneously wining and dining the great and powerful of New York to buy into her business plan.

Except it was all a lie. Even her name. Behind Anna Delvey was Anna Sorokin, a Russian born magazine intern who came out of nothing. Yet this average twenty-something intern managed to turn herself into a multimillionaire heiress, conning businesses and friends out of thousands of dollars in the process.

The podcast charts Anna’s life from her humble beginnings in Russia and later in the industrial regions of Germany, to how she became an intern for Purple magazine, a luxury magazine in Paris. From this job Anna got her first taste of the high life, mixing with the rich and powerful in Paris and also began to sow the seeds of her new persona.

Even as a lowly intern, she was invited to many social occasions and as long as she was seen to be at these events she could use social media, in particular her Instagram account to create Anna Delvey, the multi-millionaire heiress. However, even at this stage money was extremely tight and she continually had to borrow of people she knew to cover hotel bills and other expenses and often didn’t pay them back.

In later episodes, the podcast details Anna’s journey to New York as she plans to start the Anna Delvey Foundation. For this art gallery and private members club, Anna wanted to lease the Church Missions House, a historic building in the Gramercy Park area of New York. However to do this she needed a loan of $22 million dollars.

It is during this time that it is incredible just how much Sorokin initially got away with. She applied for a loan at City National Bank using fake bank statements  showing assets worth €60m she had created herself in Microsoft Word to City National Bank and Fortress Investment Group, the latter granting her the loan as long as she paid a $100k deposit. To then cover this deposit she managed to convince City National Bank to grant her a temporary overdraft of £100K on her account. 

However Fortress Investment Group became suspicious of Anna and discrepancies in her paperwork, for instance claiming she was of German heritage when her passport said she was born in Russia so she withdrew the application for the loan.

Whilst in New York, Sorokin stayed in various luxury hotels where a common theme occurred – several times she was able to stay and run up large bills as the hotel had not asked for a credit card on file, an oversight which allowed her to spend as much as she wanted by charging it back to her room.

She was also able to cash in fraudulent cheques and withdraw the money from them before they bounced, a very risky strategy which she utilized to try to keep her luxurious lifestyle going.

In May 2017, Sorokin planned for herself, Rachel DeLoache Williams along with a personal trainer and photographer Anna knew, to travel to Marrakesh in Morocco to stay at La Mamounia, a luxury five-star resort. Williams put the aeroplane tickets on her card as she did for work but it was midway through the trip when Williams learnt that again, the hotel did not have a functioning card on record for Anna and Anna convinced Williams to use her card. Initially she said this was for the reservation balance only, yet Williams ended up $62k in debt as the hotel bills were also charged to her.

After their luxury holiday, Anna actually returned once again to New York and continued as before – staying in the Beekman Hotel and W New York Union Square Hotel, again without a card on file until they evicted her. Except this time they contacted the police. Anna Delvey was due to appear in court in September 2017, yet managed to skip the date and go to California and check herself into the Passages Malibu, an addiction centre in Los Angeles California. Anna was then finally arrested in a sting operation arranged by Michael McCaffrey using Rachel Williams.

She was bought to trial in December 2018 and sentenced in May 2019. She was charged with grand larceny in the second degree, attempted grand larceny (basically theft of money), and theft of services from not paying the hotel bills.

The podcast goes into these events in great detail, as well as other people she conned, with a mixture of interviews and dramatized reconstructions which makes for an entertaining listen.

There is also great use of accompanying music throughout to give each scene an emotional impact – from the theme song which is The Heavy’s How you like me now? through to Frank Sinatra’s New York, New York and Eminem’s Lose Yourself.

Each episode is also a short 30 minutes which I found was the ideal length and ended on a teaser to leave me wanting to listen to the next part. 

What I find most fascinating about this story is how a woman came virtually from nowhere to become this heiress out of the blue and how she got away with it for so long.

In particular what’s fascinating for me is how she managed to use social media as a tool to create this fictionalized persona of Anna Delvey. Indeed Instagram features very prominently in the story.

There are of course so many stories and controversies around people’s use of social media, from people creating a filtered “perfect” snapshot of their life and the mental health issues this causes in people, through to “influencers” selling products and services that they don’t have any knowledge or experience of and though what Sorokin did takes this to the extreme it does show the power of these tools to fool and mislead people.

I also found myself regularly shaking my head in disbelief at just how much Anna got away with, especially creating her own forged bank statements on a computer. It just seems so laughable and it is here where the dramatized sections are great in showing some of the sheer audacity of what she was doing.

As Vicky Baker highlights herself, the story does have a certain glamour to it – with it taking place in the high powered, luxurious worlds of New York, Paris and Morocco. There is also a feeling of relatabiltiy to both Anna and her victims as Baker presents both sides in a very balanced way. Her victims of course as she was essentially a con woman but even to Anna herself as she tries to bring about this Foundation idea of hers. Baker also explores the public fascination of her story and her almost anti-hero status in some circles which may not be the best way forward.

This is perhaps shown best when Baker mentions the upcoming Netflix series, Inventing Anna which is due to come out early next year. With this series it appears as though, like other crimes before it such as The Great Train Robbery and The Hatton Garden robbery, the Anna Delvey story contains enough glamour, power and money to be dramatized. (Although I have to admit I am interested in seeing a dramatized version of the story following listening to this podcast). 

The only slight negative I would say about the podcast itself is there is a couple of interviews where the audio dips in volume and I had to turn up the volume whilst listening to certain parts to understand what was being said.

However for an entertaining listen to what is a fascinating story, then this is definitely a podcast worth checking out and it is available here on BBC Sounds.

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