‘Socialite Scammer’ Anna Delvey Is Now on Trial. The Evidence Suggests That Her Art Schemes Were Epic
Aby Rosen and Gabriel Calatrava will both be called to the stand.
“There’s a little bit of Anna in everyone. Everyone lies a little.”
Those were the words of Todd Spodek, the criminal defense attorney who is representing notorious “socialite scammer” Anna Sorokin, aka Anna Delvey, during opening remarks at her trial in downtown Manhattan on March 27. (Delvey’s story went viral last year based on Jessica Pressler’s New York magazine story, “How Anna Delvey Tricked New York’s Party People.“)
Following an extremely detailed—and seemingly damning—one-hour opening presentation of evidence by the assistant district attorney Kaegan Mays-Williams, Spodek kicked off his speech by citing Frank Sinatra’s anthem New York, New York. The idea of “making a brand new start of it” in Old New York, he declared, “resonates with people all over the world,” who can identify with Delvey’s attempt to invent herself on the Manhattan social scene as a 26-year-old “German heiress” from Cologne, starting in 2016.
Spodek’s defense of Delvey blamed the influence of today’s social media-obsessed culture. “Any millennial will tell you,” he said, “it is not uncommon to have delusions of grandeur.”
Not every millennial, however, can pull off the elaborate con that Delvey is purported to have staged over the course of more than two years, allegedly defrauding friends as well as banks, private jet companies, designers, and upscale hotels. The total fraud stands at $275,000, according to charges from the Manhattan District Attorney.
In his pre-trial remarks, Spodek sought to reframe Delvey’s crimes as “chutzpah” and “moxie,” arguing that the accepted rule of New York’s elite social scene was “fake it until you make it.”
In his client’s case, the “fake it” part involved, among other things, pitching herself as the developer of a lavish luxury arts club, the details of which are much more sophisticated than previously understood.
The Delvey Pitch
In a detailed, 80-page brochure aimed at potential investors in the “Anna Delvey Foundation,” revealed as part of the evidence for the trial, Delvey boasted of being a lifelong art collector: “Her interests and collecting has [sic] spanned giants of the modern and contemporary scene: Urs Fischer, Cindy Sherman, Agnes Martin, Ed Ruscha, Anish Kapour [sic], and Helmut Newton, to name a few.”
The brochure name-dropped connections to art-world luminaries including designer Daniel Arsham, former Warhol Museum director Eric Shiner, Moran Bondaroff gallery founder Al Moran, and Sotheby’s vice president of global digital and marketing strategy Noah Wunsch (the man behind the recent sale of artist-designed Supreme skateboard decks).
It is unclear how many of these “board members” and “advisory partners” knew they were being associated with Delvey’s scheme. Some of the names are now on the list of 49 witnesses set to testify at her trial in the weeks to come. These include RFR Holdings chairman and top contemporary art collector Aby Rosen; Rob Wiesenthal, the founder of helicopter ride-sharing company Blade; and architect Gabriel Calatrava, son of famous Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava.
The brochure was used in an unsuccessful effort to procure a $22 million loan for Delvey. The plans for her namesake foundation are notably lavish, clearly inspired by the ultra-VIP NYC lifestyle to which she aspired, notably using high-end contemporary art as a prop:
ADF is a membership club experience conceived by art collector and Köln native, Anna Delvey, organized around a world-class contemporary art collection. Operated as a non-profit housed within the club’s building, this contemporary collection will inform ADF’s exclusive membership experience and foster an environment unavailable anywhere else in the world. Easily accessible and stylishly conceived, ADF offers fine dining, cocktails, members’ lounges, contemporary art, and an artist studio — entirely integrated within an historic building in the heart of Manhattan.
Delvey teased an art foundation with 19,650 square feet of exhibition space, including a lending program and archives; revolving galleries with a 1,550 square-foot gallery venue also available for private functions; and an artist residency program, including a 250-square foot studio for cross media installations and three-month residency opportunities.
The ADF also promised an art and design store, a rooftop lounge, three different restaurants, a night lounge, a bar, a juice bar, and a German bakery selling traditional favorites such as bienenstich, cinnamon buns, strudel, brotchen, and laugen pretzels.
Her contemporary art center promised “four to six” professionally curated shows per year featuring both established and emerging international artists. Delvey’s list of planned exhibitions included Urs Fischer, Daniel Arsham, Tara Donovan, Ed Ruscha, Dan Flavin, Helmut Newton, Richard Serra, James Turrell, Robert Longo, Olafur Eliasson, Cindy Sherman, Robert Irwin, Irwin Penn, and Robert Ryman.
The Price of a Brochure
One of the more surprising and unorthodox aspects of Spodek’s defense of Anna Delvey was his repeated assertion that his client’s schemes had always worked out for her in the past: “somebody always picked up the check.”
Blame lay instead, he stated, with the very people and institutions whom Delvey has allegedly scammed, either for complicity or for failing to do proper due diligence. “Over-drafting your account is not a crime,” he argued. Spodek would add that “everyone wanted to believe she was a German heiress” and “the rich help the rich.”
Marc Kremers, founder and head of a London-based design firm, Future Corp, which designed the Anna Delvey Foundation brochure, is unlikely to agree. Speaking to artnet News this morning, he explained that he became an unwitting victim himself when Delvey failed to pay for the work his team invested in the project.
“She conned major architectural firms and banks,” Kremers said, “but she also stole time and money from individuals and small businesses like mine.” At the time, the £17,000 unpaid bill for the work left a considerable hole in the finances of his design studio.
As for the process of working with Delvey, he said that she provided the brochure copy and a Dropbox of images, while Future Corp handled the deck design and created the Anna Delvey Foundation’s slick logo. At one point, Kremers remembered, she asked him whether naming the foundation after herself was “too narcissistic.”
“I came into the picture right at the very pinnacle of her scam,” he said, “when she had her fundraising deck written by New York property development elite and board of advisers, some of which were genuine even. So there was nothing to suspect in terms of this not being a real thing.”
Kremers says that he spent nine months trying to get her to pay for the work before concluding that the purported German heiress was a fraud. “I was just waiting for the illusion to shatter, which it did in spectacular fashion. She truly is the malignant child of the Instagram age.”
Anna Delvey is charged with grand larceny in the first degree, grand larceny in the second and third degrees, and theft of services. She faces up to 15 years in jail if convicted. Since late 2017, when she was arrested, she has been held without bail, at Riker’s Island.
See a selection of other pages from the Anna Delvey Foundation brochure, below:
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