The onetime darling of the Big Apple social scene — dubbed the “scammer socialite,” she's been accused of posing as a wealthy heiress to infiltrate New York City’s upper echelon — went on trial Wednesday on grand larceny and theft-of-services charges. Authorities allege she swindled various people and businesses out of $275,000 in a 10-month odyssey.
Anna Sorokin traveled in celebrity circles and tossed off $100 tips — all the more reason to believe she was, as she'd claimed, a German heiress.
But behind the jet-set lifestyle, prosecutors says, was a fraudster who got a taste of the high life at the expense of friends, banks and hotels.
Sorokin, 28, lived in luxury New York City hotel rooms she couldn’t afford, promised a friend an all-expenses-paid trip to Morocco and then stuck her with the $62,000 bill, and peddled bogus bank statements in a quest for a $22 million loan, the Manhattan district attorney’s office has alleged.
“Her overall scheme has been to claim to be a wealthy German heiress with approximately $60 million in funds being held abroad,” prosecutor Catherine McCaw said after Sorokin’s October 2017 arrest. “She’s born in Russia and has not a cent to her name, as far as we can determine.”
Sorokin’s attorney said she never intended to commit a crime.
Lawyer Todd Spodek told jurors in an opening statement that Sorokin was exploiting a system after she saw how the appearance of wealth opened doors. Spodek said she was aiming to ultimately launch a business and repay her debts.
“Anna had to fake it until she could make it,” Spodek said.
Sorokin, jailed since her arrest, faces deportation to Germany regardless of the outcome of the trial because authorities say she overstayed her visa. Her story, however, may stick around.
Shonda Rhimes, the force behind “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Scandal,” is developing a show about Sorokin for Netflix. Lena Dunham, of “Girls” fame, is working on one for HBO.
At different times, it's alleged, Sorokin claimed her dad was a diplomat, an oil baron or a big deal in solar panels. In reality, her father told New York magazine, he’s a former trucker who runs a heating-and-cooling business.
At first, people around Sorokin didn’t see a red flag when she asked them to put cabs and plane fares on their credit cards — she sometimes said she had trouble moving her assets from Europe, they said — and they laughed it off as forgetfulness when they had to hound her to pay them back.
“It was a magic trick,” Rachel Williams, the friend from the Morocco trip, wrote in Vanity Fair. “I’m embarrassed to say that I was one of the props, and the audience, too. Anna’s was a beautiful dream of New York, like one of those nights that never seems to end. And then the bill arrives.”
As she ingratiated herself into the New York party scene, prosecutors said, Sorokin started talking up plans to spend tens of millions of dollars building a private arts club with exhibitions, installations and pop-up shops.
Sorokin kept up the heiress ruse as she went looking for a $22 million loan for the club in November 2016, prosecutors said. She claimed the loan would be secured by a letter of credit from UBS in Switzerland, and showed statements purporting to substantiate her assets, according to an outline of the charges.
While seeking the loan, prosecutors said, Sorokin convinced one bank to lend her $100,000 to cover due diligence costs. She ended up keeping $55,000 and “frittered away these funds on personal expenses in about one month’s time,” prosecutors said. A few months later, in May 2017, Sorokin allegedly chartered a plane to and from the Berkshire Hathaway shareholders meeting in Omaha, Neb., but never paid the $35,400 bill.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.