The rise and fall of Anna Delvey – a magazine intern who pretended to be a multimillionaire – set social media on fire. Here, Elle Dee – a DJ who met her on New York’s party circuit in 2014 – shares her story.
I started getting the texts, emails, calls and Instagram messages around a year and half ago. Friends and family were checking in to see if everything was ok, or just because they were curious like everyone else. I got emails from people I hadn’t seen in years, people I work with, people I barely knew – even my local New York deli guy asked about it. They reached out from back home in Brazil and from all over the world, including German TV gossip shows.
News had broken about Anna Sorokin, aka Anna Delvey, the German girl who had traversed New York pretending to be a wealthy heiress. Everyone was instantly fascinated by this character – the so-called Soho Grifter – who had appeared from nowhere, tricking friends and businesses out of hundreds of thousands of dollars until the law caught up with her. And when the big exposé in New York Magazine went viral in the middle of 2018, one of the photos they picked to illustrate Anna’s party lifestyle was of her and me.
The photo had been taken in 2014 by a nightlife photographer at the Top of the Standard, a hotel bar in Manhattan, where I have DJ’ed on and off for almost 10 years now. As soon as the picture was published in connection with Anna, the questions poured in… Was I ok? Was I a victim of her scamming too? Would I visit her in prison?
My standard answer to everyone who reached out at the time was that I barely knew Anna Delvey – which is mostly true – but the real story, as you’ll see, is a bit more complicated.
I have kept silent until now, but with Netflix and HBO both producing Anna Delvey series and a BBC podcast out this week, the messages have started to come in again. It seems that this strange saga isn’t going to go away soon. And so after all this time, and after debating whether I should ever go there, I finally decided to put the questions to rest. For what it’s worth, here is my Anna Delvey story.
I first met Anna in May 2014 in Montauk, a party town in the Hamptons, where I had been booked to DJ at the Surf Lodge hotel.
In the early afternoon, nightlife promoter Tommy Saleh knocked on the door of my room, trailed by a girl who was extremely overdressed for the beach. He introduced her as Anna and asked if she could stay with us for the night.
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Our instant thought was “hell no”. There were already three of us in the room, sharing two beds. Plus, she didn’t seem very friendly. During the whole interaction, she stood there with a blank expression and didn’t say a single word to us, not even a simple hello. It was only when one of my friends commented about how pretty her dress was that she finally spoke – one word: “Balenciaga”. The designer.
For the rest of the day, her answer became our inside joke. My friends and I would look at each other very seriously and announce the brands of everything we saw, wore and touched. “Corona,” we’d say pointing at our beer.
Later on, Tommy told us what he had heard about Anna. Apparently, she was an extremely wealthy heiress from overseas, who had worked at Purple fashion magazine in Paris, but was now living in New York and didn’t know anyone.
In fact, she was the magazine’s recent intern, from an ordinary working family of Russian immigrants in Germany. She went on to get others to subsidise her luxury lifestyle and dodged enormous hotel bills. But we had no idea of all this at the time. My guess is her New York scams were just beginning.
“Anna needs friends,” Tommy told us. Her story seemed believable enough. She was, indeed, wearing a very fancy outfit and she had an unusual European accent. However, we weren’t particularly interested and so we moved on.
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But later that night, I remember feeling bad about not offering her a place to sleep. Whatever her story, she wasn’t from here and didn’t know anyone, and that’s something I can relate to, as a girl who moved to NYC from Brazil alone many years ago. I went up to her to apologise and suggested getting a blow-up mattress at the front desk. But the only reaction I got was a raised eyebrow. She never came back to our room that night.
The next day, around noon, I ran outside to get a coffee and was shocked to see her sleeping in one of the cars in the parking lot. She looked like a doll, lying there in the same designer pink dress, her face blushed from the heat of the unforgiving sun – it was an unusually hot day for May. The scene looked like something straight out of a horror movie, where the pretty girl dies at the end. As I approached the car to make sure she was breathing, I was actually a little scared.
At that moment, it also occurred to me that something was very odd about the whole heiress story. Couldn’t she get a room at one of the many hotels around the Hamptons? Or maybe call a car service back to the city?
Over the next months, I kept seeing Anna at events and parties I DJed at or attended. She’d show up everywhere. She got lots of other photos with me too, mostly around the DJ booth. A big part of my job then was to socialise and talk to people. She would often pull the old trick of waiting around for a photographer to come by, and then appearing at my side. It was quite obvious at the time that she was trying to push her way into the Manhattan scene.
On one of those occasions, she asked me for my phone number.
The first time I heard from Anna directly was when she sent a text inviting me to a “dinner thing” at the Standard Hotel in the East Village, where she was staying at and which was just a few blocks from where I lived at the time. Despite the weird vibes I got from her, she did come off as someone who was just new to the city trying to make friends, so I decided to give her a shot.
It was a strange night.
When I arrived, she was sitting by herself at the bar. As people slowly started showing up, it seemed like she barely knew them – as if it was maybe the second time they’d ever met, kind of like us. Everyone just sat around, quietly staring at their own phones.
When we finally got moved to a table, she asked if I could pay for her drink. “I left my wallet upstairs,” she said.
Conversation was difficult because she was always staring at her phone. She asked me a few basic questions about my work – castigating me for not having enough Instagram followers – and I quickly started coming up with all sorts of excuses in my head to get out of there.
But before I made my exit, she was sure to mention that she was looking to rent a $12,000 (£9,000)-per-month, six-bedroom rooftop apartment on the West Side. “Six bedrooms? That’s a bit much, isn’t it?” I said. She laughed and answered, “not really”, before quickly pulling up photos on her phone of an apartment that looked as though it were straight out of Architectural Digest.
I walked out of the hotel giggling to myself. It all seemed so odd. The red flags were everywhere.
I didn’t see Anna for weeks after that. The photo that eventually turned my phone into a nightmare was taken at an awards after-party. We happened to be wearing a very similar outfit, a long black skirt with a small leather jacket. The event’s photographer thought it was funny and asked to snap a shot of us together. I wasn’t wildly keen. If only I knew this photo would come back to haunt me later…
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As Anna kept on sniffing her way around the city, plenty of other strange interactions happened between us. But ultimately, I wasn’t that interested in getting to know her properly. She seemed entitled and mean – especially to people in the service industry. I was never one of her victims, but, in hindsight, I wish I had avoided her presence in general.
My experiences were entirely different from Rachel Deloache Williams, who became “friends” with Anna and got famously lumbered with a $62,000 bill for a holiday they took together.
However, Anna did once try her luck with me. It was Paris Fashion Week in 2014 and I was playing the after-party for one of the shows when I got a text from Anna saying she was in the city too. I was with my then-boyfriend, who had a successful start-up in San Francisco that had earned him a spot on the Forbes “30 Under 30” list (which is only relevant because of what happened later).
She suggested coming over to her hotel for a drink afterwards, because she was having a party of her own. It all felt familiar and I warned my boyfriend that it was probably going to be weird, but, hey, we had time to kill, so why not?
When we arrived at the Hotel Du Louvre, we found Anna sitting with around six other people in a near-empty room. They were drinking bottles of what looked like very expensive champagne. Just like my previous experience with her, it appeared to be a group of people who didn’t seem to have anything in common – there was no conversation, no music, only forced smiles and awkward interactions. My boyfriend and I ordered our own drinks at the bar and kept to ourselves, but it was even more uncomfortable than I predicted. We were the only ones talking, and the silence was so unbearable that we left before finishing our drinks.
Early the next day came the call from Anna. She had never actually phoned me before, so I thought it was odd, which is probably why I picked up. I couldn’t quite understand her at first. She was crying. Then she told me that her credit card wasn’t working. She said she was trying to check out of the hotel, and the staff were being “extremely mean” to her. She said she was having a hard time to contact her dad with the time difference, but things would be solved soon.
She then asked me if I could bring her my card, saying she would pay me back “as soon as we got back to the city”. “How much?” I asked, although it didn’t matter because I knew my card most likely couldn’t even cover the champagne they were drinking.
“€35,000,” she said.
I can still hear her saying it – as if it were no big deal.
When I told her I didn’t have that kind of money, she answered very dryly, “Oh… ok.” And suddenly the audible tears and sniffling were gone. It was like a switch.
“What about your boyfriend?” she asked. “My boyfriend?” I laughed. Did she really think I was going to ask my boyfriend, or anyone for that matter, to lend her that ridiculous amount of money? I got off the phone with her as quickly as I could and never saw her again in person. On my way back to New York, I wondered how she got out of that terrible situation. But I’d seen enough though, and decided to steer clear from now on. I didn’t really think about her until that picture of us came out.
I only know what happened next through what I have read in the press. Anna moved on from scamming friends and acquaintances to trying to scam banks, until the police caught up with her in 2017. In May this year, she was sentenced to between four and 12 years in prison.
If you ask me how I feel about it all now, I do feel bad for her. For whatever reasons she had, she put herself through all of this when the outcome was entirely predictable.
Regarding visiting her in prison, I’m still unsure if that’s a good idea or if she will even want to see me after all this time. I sure am curious to know what happened in Paris and how she got out of it.
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At the same time, I think what she did was pretty incredible. Not the stealing other people’s money part, of course, and not in any sort of aspirational way. But she proved how easily appearances can blind humans – and particularly within the circles she aspired to belong to.
I don’t think she even had to try that hard. Despite her utterly unsound story, people were all-too-eager to buy it. In her own regrettable way, she exposed the extent to which some people are just so desperate to be someone in New York. They will believe just about anything.
- Fake Heiress – a BBC docudrama exploring Anna Delvey’s rise and fall – airs on BBC Radio Four at 14:15 on Monday 16 December and Tuesday 17 December. An extended six-part podcast is available worldwide via BBC Sounds.