EXCLUSIVE: Netflix paid fake heiress Anna Sorokin $320,000 for its show about her.
Updated: Apr 19
Netflix paid Anna Sorokin — the woman who pretended to be a German heiress named Anna Delvey with a $60 million trust fund to scam banks and other financial institutions — $320,000 for the rights to adapt her life story into a TV series, Insider can exclusively reveal.
Sorokin has used $199,000 of the money to pay restitution to the banks, plus another $24,000 to settle state fines, according to records reviewed by Insider.
New York state froze Sorokin's funds in May 2019 — a rare invocation of its "Son of Sam" law, which is designed to prevent criminals from profiting from their crimes. The law was passed in 1977 after publishers offered the "Son of Sam" serial killer David Berkowitz money for a memoir about his crimes.
But with Sorokin paying off her victims, Albany County Judge Richard Platkin ordered the state's Office of Victim Services Thursday to unfreeze her bank account and allow her to use the funds she has left ahead of her expected release from prison next month.
Ahead of Platkin's order, Sorokin formally agreed to pay the $70,000 in restitution she still owed to Citibank, court records reviewed by Insider showed. She had already paid the $100,000 she owed to City National Bank, The Wall Street Journal first reported.
In addition to the roughly $223,000 she's paid in restitution and fines, Sorokin has also paid $75,000 in attorney fees and will owe more once legal proceedings in her case have concluded, leaving her little money left from the Netflix payout.
Sorokin first came into the national spotlight in spring 2018 after a New York magazine story by Jessica Pressler about her exploits using her fake identity to run in wealthy Manhattan circles and jump between Soho hotels to maintain a high-flying lifestyle. She had planned to obtain funds from banks to develop the Anna Delvey Foundation, a mixed-arts and restaurant space that, if successful, would enable her to pay them all back.
Sorokin was ultimately arrested in 2017 on grand-larceny charges and sat trial in 2019. She was found guilty of eight counts and acquitted on two — including the most severe one, attempted grand larceny of over $1 million from City National Bank.
Judge Diane Kiesel, who oversaw the criminal case, sentenced her to four to 12 years in prison, including the two years she had already spent in Rikers Island jail ahead of the trial. Sorokin was granted early release for February 2021, a New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision spokesperson told Insider.
Sorokin could have held on to the money while appealing her case
Sorokin filed for direct appeal after the losses in her criminal case, which experts said could have allowed her to hold on to her Netflix payment for longer.
If her appeal was successful, she might not have to pay anything at all, according to Dmitriy Shakhnevich, a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice and expert in the "Son of Sam" law.
"If the appeal would overturn her conviction, all with the judgment — financial and punitive and otherwise — would be gone," Shakhnevich said.
Despite that, Sorokin moved to ensure that City National Bank and Citibank were paid what they were owed anyway. Her attorney in the appellate case, Audrey A. Thomas, told Insider Sorokin believed she owed them the money, even though she didn't believe she stole it.
"She said, 'You know, I want them to be paid. I didn't steal the money, but I do owe money, so I'm not going to fight it. That's not who I am,'" Thomas said.
Sorokin at the defense table during jury deliberations. Richard Drew/AP
Thomas said the case should have never been considered a criminal matter and that it should have been a civil one — a simple case of one person owing another money.
"She didn't stick up the bank. She didn't rob anyone," Thomas said. "OK — she did not pay her debt on time, and she said she's Anna Delvey when she's really Anna Sorokin — but the reality is, it really doesn't really fit clearly into a criminal statute."
Thomas said that even though Sorokin was paying all the money back, winning the appeal in court was still important because it would show the world that she isn't a criminal.
"It clears her name and that's important," Thomas said. "It's in her interest to pursue the appeal because she has her whole identity riding on this."
Sorokin apologizes to the court next to her attorney Todd Spodek during her sentencing on May 9, 2019. Steven Hirsch/New York Post via AP
Aside from the funds she paid to City National Bank and Citibank, Sorokin owes smaller amounts to other victims. She was also convicted, for instance, on a count of third-degree larceny against Signature Bank and a count of theft of services against Blade, a company described as the "Uber for helicopters."
Those parties missed the window to seek payment while Sorokin's account was frozen but could still sue in civil court to obtain the funds they say they're owed. New York's Office of Victim Services, which oversees the process of freezing bank accounts and ensuring victims are paid, does not typically intervene in those types of cases, a person familiar with the process told Insider, except to notify them if Sorokin receives new deposits.
But Thomas told Insider Sorokin instructed her to pay everyone named in Kiesel's order.
Netflix and ICE
Netflix bought the rights to Sorokin's life story, Insider first reported. Shonda Rhimes' production company, Shondaland, is producing "Inventing Anna" based on Pressler's article. The "Ozark" actress Julia Garner stars as Sorokin. The show's production was delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic, but it is expected to be released later this year.
In a competing project, HBO bought the rights to adapt the story of Rachel Williams, a former friend of Sorokin who said she was duped into thinking she was friends with a real German heiress. Williams said she lent Sorokin $62,000 to pay for a lavish trip to Morocco, expecting to be paid back promptly, and went to the police when she wasn't. Williams later wrote a Vanity Fair article and book, "My Friend Anna," about her experience.
Rachel Williams entering the courtroom for Sorokin's criminal trial. Jacob Shamsian/Insider
At Sorokin's trial, Williams said HBO and Simon & Schuster were paying her a collective $110,000 for her story, with the potential to make up to $600,000. The jury ultimately found Sorokin not guilty of the larceny charge involving Williams.
A person familiar with HBO's adaptation of Williams' story said it was still in production, though it appears to be stalled: No public moves have been made since the project was announced in August 2019.
In prison at the Albion Correctional Facility in upstate New York, Sorokin has written blog posts about her experiences and a tongue-in-cheek open letter to former President Donald Trump with advice about how to deal with life behind bars.
Sorokin arrives for sentencing at New York State Supreme Court on May 9, 2019. Steven Hirsch/New York Post via AP
At a parole hearing in October, she told the parole board she was sorry for her actions and was granted early release.
"I just want to say that I'm really ashamed and I'm really sorry for what I did," Sorokin said, according to a transcript of the hearing obtained by the New York Post. "I completely understand that a lot of people suffered when I thought I was not doing anything wrong."
Upon Sorokin's release, Immigration and Customs Enforcement may try to deport her because she's a German citizen. It's not clear if ICE will immediately attempt to deport her or if the Biden administration's fight to freeze deportations will keep her in the US for longer.
Disclosure: Mathias Döpfner, CEO of Business Insider's parent company, Axel Springer, is a Netflix board member.