In the Trial of Alleged Art-World Scammer Anna Delvey, a Former Vanity Fair Editor Recounts Being Conned in the Luxury Trip From Hell
A lavish trip to Morocco ended in disaster for Rachel Williams who was left with $60,000 in debt
“Art and travel” were the first things Rachel Williams noticed about the Instagram feed of alleged con artist Anna Sorokin, who is better known by her alias, Anna Delvey.
So the former Vanity Fair photo editor recalled as she sat on the witness stand for hours yesterday in Sorokin’s ongoing criminal trial at New York State Supreme Court in downtown Manhattan. She testified that she first met and became friendly with Sorokin through mutual friends at a SoHo nightclub in 2016, gradually spending more and more time with her over dinners and drinks at various upscale Manhattan restaurants like Le Coucou, eventually accompanying her to $300-per-hour private training sessions with celebrity fitness expert Kacy Duke as well.
In May 2017 she also joined Sorokin on what was supposed to be an all-expense-paid trip to Morocco that ended in financial disaster for Williams when she was left with credit-card charges totaling over $60,000 on her personal and corporate American Express cards.
Like many others, Williams fell for the story that Sorokin was a German heiress who had inherited a family trust of over $60 million, and who was hard at work creating a private “members only” club with an “art gallery concept” in a building on Park Avenue South. It was described to the editor as “a dynamic visual-arts center dedicated to contemporary art.” Noting that Sorokin almost always picked up the tab for everything, from lavish dinners and bottle service at clubs to expensive pedicures, Williams said she had little reason to doubt Sorokin’s story.
In court yesterday, assistant district attorney Kaegan Mays-Williams made a point of asking Williams if she felt uncomfortable about allowing Sorokin to pay for all of their outings. Williams said that after one of their first dinners out together she had reached for her wallet, but Anna batted her hand away, saying, “You work harder for your money.” From then on there was an unspoken agreement that Anna would be paying “because she could,” Williams said.
Williams has already chronicled her ordeal in a first-person account for Vanity Fair published in April 2018, but an even more extensive litany of details—and photos of the ill-fated Morocco trip—were on full display for the jury and others in the courtroom yesterday. Williams captivated listeners with her account of her trip to Morocco with Sorokin, the fitness trainer, and a videographer named Jesse Hawk, whom she says Anna brought along because she wanted to create a documentary about the making of her contemporary art foundation. Pictures that Williams took on the trip, as well as itemized receipts showing the charges she incurred, were part of the extensive evidence presented in support of her story.
Williams said she didn’t think there was anything wrong when a “minor snafu” resulted in Sorokin asking her to put all four of the airplane fares on her credit card, with the promise of swift repayment. Sorokin also sent email confirmation to Williams seemingly showing that their lavish accommodations at La Mamounia resort in Marrakesh—including their $7,000-a-night private villa with its own pool and butler—had been paid for in advance.
But red flags began appearing soon after their arrival, when, over and over again, Sorokin could not pay for anything because of declined cards or other defaults that she repeatedly chalked up to either problems with her German banks or errors caused by her own bankers or attorneys. As a result, Sorokin kept turning to Williams, who told the court she ended up paying for everything from meals for a few hundred dollars apiece to a $1,300 caftan spending spree—after Sorokin decided her clothes were too “dark” and “New York” for strolling around the Medina—to a $1,600 donation to Yves Saint Laurent’s foundation in exchange for a private tour of the late designer’s Majorelle Gardens, a visit that had been arranged by Sorokin.
Williams said she had to provide that last “donation,” a required fee for a private tour of Laurent’s residence, when Sorokin disappeared after the tour ended and staffers at the gardens took her into a back room to demand the money, frightening her.
And things went from bad to worse for WIlliams when two security guards turned up at the villa and refused to leave. Not only had the accommodations not been paid for in advance, there was no credit card on file with the hotel. Williams said Sorokin told them that, because of her purported problems accessing her bank accounts from overseas, she was unable to provide a valid card. The editor then reluctantly agreed to furnish her personal and corporate cards, but on a backup basis only. Evidence presented in court showed she racked up more than $62,000 on her cards, including additional charges for private tours, tennis lessons, and car-service charges associated with the hotel bills.
Upon direct questioning from the prosecutor, Williams said that over the weeks and months following her return from Morocco she exchanged countless texts with Sorokin in which the latter played an endless game of cat-and-mouse, falsely promising over and over again that a wire with full repayment and more—of $80,000—was imminent, or saying that she had a cashier’s check for the amount but had misplaced it.
At one point, amid all the delays, and after Sorokin joked about paying her back in bitcoin, she told Williams she was racing to a Citibank branch in Tribeca that stayed open a little later than others—5:30 p.m. to be exact—so that she could withdraw $80,000 cash for Williams. But upon arriving there, Williams said Sorokin reported, the bank didn’t have enough cash on hand to fulfill her request. Sorokin appeared to feign exasperation, writing in a text to Williams: “It’s like the tenth time someone tells me to go fuck myself today. I can’t.”
Williams eventually became more aggressive, texting Sorokin: “I NEED TO BE REIMBURSED Your meetings and calls are leading to nothing. I can’t pay my rent. I’m freaked out.” At one point she texted Sorokin: “You come off like a fraud. Nothing you say contains clear information.” Sorokin shot back: “What makes me a fraud here?”
Williams, who frequently became emotional and burst into tears on the witness stand, described being distraught and unable to pay her rent, other bills, and, in particular, the hefty charges on her credit card. Her minimum payment due for one American Express card, for example, had ballooned to over $30,000, documents showed.
Also present in the courtroom during the testimony, Sorokin showed no reaction as her former friend described the ordeal in detail, reading aloud portions of their extensive text correspondence in which Williams pleaded for her to repay the money owed. In response to questions from the prosecution, Williams revealed that HBO had optioned her story for a possible series or film project, a deal worth roughly $35,000. She also said she has a book deal with Simon & Schuster worth roughly $300,000.
Sorokin 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 her arrest in late 2017, she has been held without bail at Riker’s Island.
Additional reporting by Caroline Goldstein
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