Anna Sorokin is on trial on grand larceny and theft of services charges.
Anna Sorokin is on trial on grand larceny and theft of services charges.

Detail that brought fake ‘heiress’ unstuck

In retrospect, the biggest clue was her hair, New York society mavens now say.

Anna Delvey was ostensibly a 20-something German heiress in the midst of setting up a global chain of art-focused private members clubs.

Hong Kong, LA and London were on her list. She would hand out $US100 ($AU140) notes to concierges, Uber drivers and porters constantly at the trendy Soho hotel, 11 Howard, which she called home.

For months in 2017, she lived the life of an ultra-wealthy European transplant. She wore Alexander Wang and Balenciaga, paid for a high-end "personal trainer slash life coach," and arranged dinners with Macaulay Culkin.

Split ends: Exhibit A.
Split ends: Exhibit A.

When she was out of town, it was to attend exclusive events such as Coachella and Art Basel.

But it was her ratty hair that people now say was the give-away.

While her look was incredibly expensive and her taste in food, clothes and hotels suggested she had vast personal wealth, she still had split ends, a deplorable state of affairs that no wealthy woman would put up with.

It turned out that Delvey was not an heiress or even German. According to reports, she is actually Russian and her father is a truck driver. Also, her real surname is Sorokin.

Quite how she conquered the global art and fashion scene with such ease is one of the enduring questions that lingers.

Currently, she is on trial in New York for allegedly stealing up to $US250,000 ($AU351,000) from hotels and banks. She has pleaded not guilty.

Her case has become a social page mainstay and her courtroom antics, including hiring a stylist for her legal appearances who has dressed her in fashionable Miu Miu and Saint Laurent looks, have kept the world riveted.

She had everyone believing she was a German heiress and attended high-profile events in New York City with top influencers.
She had everyone believing she was a German heiress and attended high-profile events in New York City with top influencers.

Intriguingly, we seem to be in the midst of a raft of legal cases, from Silicon Valley, to Hollywood and Europe, involving female alleged scammers, which are compulsive and fascinating to watch play out.

In 2018, Yvonne Bannigan, a former US Vogue staffer was charged with allegedly stealing $75,000 from the fashion bible's legendary creative director-at-large, Grace Coddington.

According to reports, Bannigan allegedly took $12,651 after selling items belonging to Coddington and selling them online. She is also alleged to have made unauthorised purchases on Coddington's credit card.

Bannigan, 24, has claimed that the case is all a misunderstanding, theNew York Postreports. In September last year she turned down a plea deal.

Yvonne Bannigan.
Yvonne Bannigan.

Then in June, British woman Larissa Watson was dubbed the "Pirate of Portofino" after allegedly trying to steal $277,000 from the Italian Riviera. The Telegraph reports she had earlier been reported to Italian police for allegedly leaving hotels, restaurants and a beauty parlour without making payment.

Watson has told The Sun: "It's all been a big misunderstanding. I had permission from the owner to be on the boat. It's not at all how the Italian police describe, I have been the victim of an unfortunate set of circumstances and there is more to this than meets the eye."

The next month, in July 2018, The Los Angeles Times published a report about a woman who called herself Anna March (who was also known as Delaney Anderson, Nancy Kruse, and Nancy Lott) and who posed as a member of the city's literary glitterati.

She is alleged to have arranged workshops "which she would suddenly cancel, leaving several people on the hook for travel expenses," Vulture reports. March posted a long rejoinder online and has deleted her social media accounts.

The most high-profile of these cases belongs to a woman who assailed the heights of the global business world and has now come crashing down to Earth.

In 2015, Elizabeth Holmes appeared on the cover of Forbes magazine, clad in her signature black skivvy and holding a minuscule vial. Theranos promised to totally revolutionise healthcare on a global scale with her Edison device that offered cheap and fast "pinprick" blood tests.

Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes.
Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes.

She had secured investors for Theranos including Oracle founder Larry Ellison and global figures such as former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger for the company's board.

Investors poured nearly $1 billion into the company, hungry to be a part of this bold and exciting venture. Theranos was valued at $14 billion at its peak.

At the company's height, Holmes' personal fortune was estimated at more than $6 billion.

Given her immense success, Holmes travelled by Gulfstream private jet and was constantly surrounded by a retinue of bodyguards. Such was her dedication and focus, she never took holidays and celebrated her birthday solely with employees. She was also fast emerging as a global power player, sitting on panels with President Bill Clinton and Alibaba CEO Jack Ma (personal wealth: $40 billion).

Ever since she had started her company, Theranos, Holmes had consciously modelled her look after her hero Steve Jobs, persistently mimicking his clothing and even filling her office with his favourite furniture.

However, being granted the privilege of investing in the company came with a, in hindsight, curious caveat, according to Business Insider: That she would not reveal exactly how Theranos' Edison machine worked.

And then, cracks begin to appear in her black-clad armour. Wall Street Journal reporter John Carreyrou's interest was piqued when he read a quote from Holmes, ostensibly explaining how the Edison technology worked. Intrigued, he started digging and in October 2015 published a bombshell report questioning the efficacy of the Edison.

The piece opened the floodgates and a growing chorus of voices started to openly query just how truthful Holmes and Theranos were being about their technology.

Vanity Fair has reported that Holmes claimed the Edison could do over 1000 blood tests - the reality was it could only do one. She is also reported to have allegedly misled people to believe the US military was using the machine in war zones.

The same year, the US Food and Drug Administration opened an investigation into Holmes and the company.

Today, Holmes is facing federal charges of criminal fraud and if she is found guilty, could face decades in prison. (She has plead not guilty and maintains her innocence.)

All of these cases raise so many questions but it is the women are the centre of them that really captivate our attention: Who are they and what drives them?

With the Bernie Madoffs of the world we seem to opaquely understand their motivations - the greed and the hunger to dominate in the business world. But there is still something more shocking when women are involved in such schemes.

While a violent crime can be understood as a moment of madness and of passion, scammers who coldly and calculatingly deceive the world challenge our sense of gender dynamics.

Pretty and smart girls are not meant to be Machiavellian thieves. And when they do just that it undermines the fact women are still inherently seen as nurturing creatures.

It is also worth noting that statistically, men are far more likely to commit non-violent and violent crimes.

Late last month, during one of Delvey/Sorokin's court appearances, her lawyer, Todd Spodek said that the underlying maxim of New York high society was "fake it until you make it".

"There's a little bit of Anna in everyone," Sorokin has told The Guardian. "Everyone lies a little."

- Daniela Elser is a freelance writer. Continue the conversation @DanielaElser

Anna Sorokin hired a stylist for her legal appearances.
Anna Sorokin hired a stylist for her legal appearances.

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