It all seemed so easy. Show people the money and they can’t see past that. Show them a little money, spread it around as if it didn’t matter, and they’re sure, they just know, there’s so much more to come. It was just so easy.

Every move, into a new job or relationship or city, is a small reinvention of yourself. Anna Sorokin decided it would be epic. She went from a poor upbringing in a small, working-class satellite town in Russia, moving to another small town in Germany where she had difficulty with the language, to London and a brief period at Central St Martins art school. Somewhere on that journey to adulthood she reimagined herself so that when she landed in New York in 2013, she was now Anna Delvey with a $60 million trust fund she couldn’t unlock for three years, until she turned 25.

And it went so well – living in expensive boutique hotels, dressing in designer clothes, eating out at the coolest restaurants, partying with Manhattan’s monied elite, until, inevitably, the conned cottoned. In a scam of over $200,000, she was convicted of bilking two hotels, a private jet company for $35,000, and banks – one gave her $100,000 on the basis of fake documents she had run up on Photoshop. Other embarrassed creditors may prefer anonymity.

It began when she checked into 11 Howard, an achingly trendy hotel in SoHo, where she gave hundred-buck tips which seemed to be enough to convince the management that she could afford the month-long stay she had reserved. She couldn’t. She moved to two other hotels where the same splash with the gratuities worked a treat. It was the same with restaurant bills when she dined with others – she had left her purse in her luggage, or there was a problem with her credit card, so others paid the bills.

Then, apparently inspired by Khloé Kardashian, she reserved a $7,000-a-night riad, complete with private butler, at the La Mamounia resort in Marrakesh in Morocco. She went with a personal trainer, a videographer who was to make a “behind-the-scenes” documentary. And a friend she had made, Rachel Williams. It was Williams who allegedly paid the bill, although Delvey wasn’t convicted on that charge.

The trainer caught food poisoning and came back early but several days later got a call from a tearful Anna in a hotel in Casablanca, with the play-it-again story, that there was a credit card problem, so the trainer said she’d book her a return flight. Through sobs, Delvey croaked: “Can you get me first class?”

24-hour party person

What does seem to be genuine in the middle of a fast-spinning fantasy was her ambition to open a members’ club focused on art, not just in Manhattan but in Los Angeles, Dubai, Hong Kong and London. It was to be called ADF, the Anna Delvey Foundation. She was at all the best parties, rubbing up the right people, and her story was that while she’d put in $25 million to the project it was going to cost a lot more.

A lawyer, writing on her behalf in two bank loan applications, explained that she needed the money because “her personal assets, which are quite substantial, are located outside the US, some of them in trust with UBS outside the US”.

In November 2016, it began to fall apart. She sent faked and Photoshopped documents to the City National Bank “proving” that she had assets of $60m, in pursuit of a $22m loan. Next month she went to Fortress looking for $25-35m and, after the bank asked her for $100,000 to perform due diligence, she was somehow able to persuade the National to give her a credit line for that amount, which she wired to Fortress.

She then began passing bad cheques and, with a faked wire transfer from Deutsche Bank, persuaded a company called Blade to charter her a $35,000 private jet. She was finally arrested, after more cons and binges, in California in 2017.

Delvey was offered a plea bargain deal, a sentence of three to nine years in prison, conditional on her agreeing to extradition to Germany. She refused it. In May 2019, after a trial where she again maintained her fake persona, in designer clothes, she was sentenced to four to 12 years.

Before the trial her lawyer, Todd Spodek, said: “Anna’s style was a driving force in her business, and life, and it is a part of who she is. I want the jury to see that side of her and enlisted a stylist to assist in selecting the appropriate outfits.”

Netflix’ starring role

THE story should have ended there with the clang of the prison cell door. But a year later it took another turn when a reporter for The Cut magazine, Jessica Pressler, wrote the tale of the fake heiress, the story then appearing in New York Magazine. It also went viral, one of the biggest stories of the year. Less than a fortnight after the magazine article came out, prisoner number 19G0366 signed a Netflix contract for film rights to her story.

Netflix was looking for another big hit – it was, then as now, hugely in debt, with competitors like Disney and Apple about to challenge.

Producer Shonda Rhimes – of Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal – had signed a $100m, three-year deal with the company and her first project was to be the semi-fictionalised account, called Inventing Anna, with Julia Garner in the lead role.

As it often does in the States when there’s bit money involved, it got legally complicated. There’s a “Son of Sam” law in New York – named after 1970s serial killer David Berkowitz, known by his pen name – instigated over concerns that he would profit by selling his story. Under the law, a company paying a felon more than $10,000 has to inform the Office of Victims Services and the bank account is frozen – victims are notified so they can lodge their claims.

Netflix had paid Sorokin $320,000 – two banks claimed $170,000 and the balance after her legal fees would go to her.

Strange new reality

THE pandemic has stopped production on Inventing Anna but there may also be competition.

Rachel Williams, the friend allegedly conned – who has already written one book, My Friend Anna – has deals with Simon & Schuster and HBO, with Lena Dunham apparently writing the film script.

Sorokin came out of prison a fortnight ago after serving three-and-a-half years. She is, once again, reinvented, this time as the star of her own reality show. She is back in Manhattan and documenting it on Twitter and Instagram with her pal Neff Davis, the former concierge at 11 Howard who first received a $100 tip as Sorokin was on her way to running up a $31,000 bill.

She has an exclusive deal with Netflix which precludes her talking about her story, but it doesn’t prevent her cashing in on her notoriety.

After complaining about being tracked by film crews on the streets of New York, she hired her own as well as an Emmy award-winning filmmaker called Doug Higginbotham.

He’s been documenting her new incarnation, which is as a self-styled performance artist, and also working on her image.

Higginbotham took what looks like a highly-Photoshopped portrait of her, looking like a cross between Twiggy and silent movie star Theda Barra, which Sorokin put on her Instagram page.

Sorokin now has to fight extradition if she’s not to be returned to Germany and the humble life she shed. If she is she’s said she would move back to London. Five-star hotels, celebrity clubs and merchant banks be warned.