Heiress hoax scores fraudster celebrity treatment, and charges

Anna Sorokin, the one-time darling of the Big Apple social scene, appears in New York State Supreme Court on grand larceny charges in this October 30, 2018 photo. (AP)
Updated 27 March 2019

Heiress hoax scores fraudster celebrity treatment, and charges

  • ‘Her overall scheme has been to claim to be a wealthy German heiress with approximately $60 million in funds being held abroad’
  • Anna Sorokin arrived in the world of champagne wishes and caviar dreams in 2016

NEW YORK: Anna Sorokin traveled in celebrity circles and tossed $100 tips — all the more reason to believe she was the German heiress she said she was. But behind the jet-set lifestyle and pricy threads, prosecutors say, was a fraudster who bilked friends, banks and hotels for a taste of the high life.
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 alleges.
On Wednesday, the one-time darling of the Big Apple social scene is scheduled to stand trial on grand larceny and theft of services charges alleging she swindled $275,000 in a 10-month odyssey that saw her jetting to Omaha and Marrakesh before landing in a cell at Rikers Island.
“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 lawyer, Todd Spodek, did not respond to a telephone message left Tuesday. At a hearing last month, he said that Sorokin is “presumed innocent and never intended to commit a larceny.”
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,” has announced she is creating a television series about Sorokin, whose Instagram bio says: “soon on Netflix.”
Sorokin arrived in the world of champagne wishes and caviar dreams in 2016 with a new name (Anna Delvey) and a wardrobe to match (Celine sunglasses, Gucci sandals and high-end buys from Net-a-Porter and Elyze Walker). She made a show of proving she belonged, passing crisp Benjamins to Uber drivers and hotel concierges, but she gave varying accounts for the source of her wealth, according to people who knew her.
At different times, they said, she’d claim her father was a diplomat, an oil baron or a solar panel muckity-muck. 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 to 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. She thought about calling it the Anna Delvey Foundation.
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.
One bank rejected Sorokin because she “did not have sufficient cash flow to make loan payments,” prosecutors said. She bailed on another firm when it pressured her for a meeting with a UBS banker who could verify her assets, prosecutors said.
During the process, 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, Nebraska, but never paid the $35,400 bill.
Broke and facing a big bill at a midtown Manhattan hotel in July 2017, Sorokin pleaded with a police officer that a bailout was on the way, prosecutors said.
“I have no money and no credit cards. I’m waiting for my aunt from Germany. She’s going to pay,” Sorokin said, according to court documents. “I’m not trying to run. Why are you making a big deal about this? Give me five minutes and I can get a friend to pay.”


What makes dogs so special? Science says love

Updated 20 February 2020

What makes dogs so special? Science says love

  • Canine science has enjoyed a resurgence in the past two decades, much of it extolling dogs’ smarts
  • Although dogs have an innate predisposition for affection, it requires early life nurturing to take effect

WASHINGTON: The idea that animals can experience love was once anathema to the psychologists who studied them, seen as a case of putting sentimentality before scientific rigor.
But a new book argues that, when it comes to dogs, the word is necessary to understanding what has made the relationship between humans and our best friends one of the most significant interspecies partnerships in history.
Clive Wynne, founder the Canine Science Collaboratory at Arizona State University, makes the case in “Dog is Love: Why and How Your Dog Loves You.”
The animal psychologist, 59, began studying dogs in the early 2000s, and, like his peers, believed that to ascribe complex emotions to them was to commit the sin of anthropomorphism — until he was swayed by a body evidence that was growing too big to ignore.
“I think there comes a point when it’s worth being skeptical of your skepticism,” the Englishman said.
Canine science has enjoyed a resurgence in the past two decades, much of it extolling dogs’ smarts.
Titles like “The Genius of Dogs” by Brian Hare have advanced the idea that dogs have an innate and exceptional intelligence.
Wynne, however plays spoilsport, arguing that Fido is just not that brilliant.
Pigeons can identify different kinds of objects in 2D images; dolphins have shown they understand grammar; honeybees signal the location of food sources to each other through dance; all feats that no dogs have ever been known to accomplish.
Even wolves, dogs’ ancestor species known for their ferocity and lack of interest in people, have shown the ability to follow human cues — including, in a recent Swedish study, by playing fetch.
Wynne proposes a paradigm shift, synthesizing cross-disciplinary research to posit that it is dogs’ “hypersociability” or “extreme gregariousness” that sets them apart.
One of the most striking advances comes from studies regarding oxytocin, a brain chemical that cements emotional bonds between people, but which is, according to new evidence, also responsible for interspecies relationships between dogs and humans.
Recent research led by Takefumi Kikusui at Japan’s Azabu University has shown that levels of the chemical spike when humans and their dogs gaze into each other’s eyes, mirroring an effect observed between mothers and babies.
In genetics, UCLA geneticist Bridgett vonHoldt made a surprising discovery in 2009: Dogs have a mutation in the gene responsible for Williams syndrome in humans — a condition characterized by intellectual limitations and exceptional gregariousness.
“The essential thing about dogs, as for people with Williams syndrome, is a desire to form close connections, to have warm personal relationships — to love and be loved,” writes Wynne.
Numerous insights have also been gleaned through new behavior tests — many devised by Wynne himself and easy to replicate at home with the help of treats and cups.
One involved researchers using a rope to pull open the front door of a dog’s home and placing a bowl of food at an equal distance to its owner, finding that the animals overwhelmingly went to their human first.
Magnetic resonance imaging has drilled down on the neuroscience, showing that dogs’ brains respond to praise as much or even more than food.
But although dogs have an innate predisposition for affection, it requires early life nurturing to take effect.
Nor is the love affair exclusive to humans: A farmer who raised pups among a penguin colony on a tiny Australian island was able to save the birds from marauding foxes, in an experiment that was the basis for a 2015 film.
For Wynne, the next frontiers of dog science may come through genetics, which will help unravel the mysterious process by which domestication took place at least 14,000 years ago.
Wynne is an advocate for the trash heap theory, which holds that the precursors to ancient dogs congregated around human dumping grounds, slowly ingratiating themselves with people before the enduring partnership we know today was established through joint hunting expeditions.
It’s far less romantic than the popular notion of hunters who captured wolf pups and then trained them, which Wynne derides as a “completely unsupportable point of view” given the ferocity of adult wolves who would turn on their human counterparts.
New advances in the sequencing of ancient DNA will allow scientists to discover when the crucial mutation to the gene that controls Williams syndrome occurred.
Wynne guesses this happened 8,000 — 10,000 years ago, at the end of the last Ice Age, when humans began regularly hunting with dogs.
What makes these findings important, beyond advancing science, is their implications for dogs’ welfare, he argues.
That means rejecting brutal, pain-based training methods like choke collars based on debunked understandings of “dominance” popularized by celebrity trainers who demand dog owners become “pack leaders.”
“All your dog wants is for you to show them the way,” says Wynne, through compassionate leadership and positive reinforcement.
It also means carving out time to meet their social needs instead of leaving them isolated for most of the day.
“Our dogs give us so much, and in return they don’t ask for much,” he says.
“You don’t need to be buying all these fancy expensive toys and treats and goodness knows what that are available.
“They just need our company; they need to be with people.”