Looking back, Rachel DeLoache Williams can clearly see the signs. Like, when Anna Delvey would order rounds of expensive shots at trendy bars, but conveniently forget her credit card. Or, on vacation in Marrakesh, when a wire transfer gone wrong forced Williams to front their entire exorbitant hotel bill—all $62,000 of it.
At the time, the former Vanity Fair photo editor chalked up the many money mishaps to the fact that Delvey, who claimed to be a German heiress with a $67 million trust fund, had a lackadaisical attitude about money. But in reality, Delvey was a master scam artist from a lower-middle-class family in Russia, who faked her way into Manhattan's highest social circles and bilked restaurateurs, hoteliers, and socialites out of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Williams, Delvey's closest friend, was also one of her victims.
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In May 2018, New York magazine’s Jessica Pressler exposed Delvey, whose real name is Anna Sorokin, as a grifter in the piece "Maybe She Had So Much Money She Just Lost Track of It." One year later, she was sentenced to 4 to 12 years in prison for grand larceny and theft of services. During the highly publicized trial, which Williams testified at, Sorokin developed a cult-like following online that bought into her socialite "Robin Hood" narrative.
But in Williams' new book My Friend Anna: The True Story of a Fake Heiress, she says Sorokin is far from a hero. ELLE.com spoke with the first-time author about her infamous ex-friend, and her advice on how not to befriend a fraudster.
In My Friend Anna, you explain that you met Anna through mutual friends, all of whom you say also believed she was a German heiress. Why was she so convincing?
She was really consistent with the story she told about who she was, and she told it to so many people that when I did begin to have doubts and started asking questions, people would confirm the same story she told me, because she told everyone the same story. So it was like a house of cards, where, to some extent, other people could talk about it and fill in the back story, without her even having to say things. In that way, she was definitely smart. She had done her research. She knew the language. She knew what to say and she knew how someone with money might behave.
In retrospect, though, were there red flags?
Many. Besides her forgetting her credit card and the whole Morocco thing, she also made these strange, grand gestures or requests of entitlement that almost seemed too ridiculous to be real. So whether that's cutting to the front of the line, or stepping in front of people while getting out of an elevator. It was little things like that.
No matter who else was in the Uber, and without asking anyone, she would get the auxiliary cord so that she could play whatever music she wanted to listen to. She seemed to have very little awareness that there were people around her. I think it's normal in a group of friends to have that one friend that you find yourself making excuses for, like, "Oh, don't mind her, that's just Anna." She was that friend. You just didn't realize how deep the weirdness and the off-ness went.
Everything started to go downhill in Morocco, when Anna's credit cards weren't working and you were forced to pay for the hotel, the airline tickets, and even a guided tour of Yves Saint Laurent’s former home. Which, you've said, cost you a total of $62,000.
It didn't make any sense to me at the time. She'd organized the trip, and I was picking apart the pieces trying to find an explanation for what was happening, but I still trusted her for a very long time after that. By the time I left Morocco, she owed me $62,000, which was more than I was making a year at my job at Vanity Fair at the time.
It was devastating. I couldn't sleep. I would wake up in the morning in a panic. I actually couldn't breathe. I hyperventilated a lot. I sat in stairwells at work. I mean, my hair fell out.
What did you tell your colleagues at Vanity Fair?
One woman, my former boss, we were very close, and I confided in her and she was a huge support system for me. She would check on me and she sat next to me and she kept an eye on me. She immediately offered to lend me money. I was really lucky that I had been at my job long enough and people knew me well enough not to question my judgements. They were really on my side and they were very supportive, when I did tell people.
You eventually went to the police and the Manhattan District Attorney with your story, and assisted in a sting operation. What motivated you to do that?
I wanted answers. At the time, it felt like my world was falling down around me and I couldn't find any answers. I couldn't figure out why this was happening. So, trying to find some sort of explanation for the madness and trying to keep untangling this puzzle was a big motivator. I really was acting toward her from a place of kindness and goodwill. She was my friend. So the fact that she took advantage of me in this way really just made me feel that she could do it to anybody. I couldn't understand her moral compass, and that scared me.
You've said that since your book came out, people who also believe they're being conned have reached out to you. What advice do you give them?
One, don't blame yourself, because there are people who want to take advantage of other people, and it's not your fault for looking for the good in people. I would beat myself up about that, but I think you just have to know at the end of the day that that's not wrong. Two, trust your instincts. If you feel that something is off, set your boundaries and really stick to them.
During Anna's trial, which you testified at, she wore designer clothing selected by a celebrity stylist, Anastasia Walker. Did you know her courtroom style also inspired an Instagram account [@annadelveycourtlook]?
Oh, yeah. It was so keeping with her character, the Anna Delvey character, and the way that everybody was sort of laughing and clapping at her audacity. That's how her con works. That's why I liked her when we were friends. At the time, I didn't see it as sociopathy. When I looked at her in the courtroom, I was like, "Wow, this girl isn't capable of feeling remorse." I see it so differently. But the whole stylist thing, it just felt like a big "watch the birdie," that old magician's trick, where you're paying attention to this, so you don't see what I've actually done here.
But it didn't work in the end, right? Because she was convicted of grand larceny.
No, it did work. Look at the way she was applauded in the court of public opinion, like that Instagram account. It's frustrating, because I understand her appeal and I certainly don't blame anybody for finding it amusing. I probably would have too, had I not been taken advantage of by her, and had I not seen her for who she is, a despicable narcissist.
Rose Minutaglio Staff Writer Rose is a Staff Writer at ELLE.com covering culture, news, and women's issues.