The release of Inventing Anna, a nine-part Netflix series created by Shonda Rhimes, has brought the case of Anna Sorokin back into the spotlight. Sorokin (31) lived for several years in the 2010s as Anna Delvey, a wealthy German heiress of her own invention, convincing members of Manhattan's elite to finance her fine dining and travel.
Sorokin was arrested in 2017 after bilking banks and failing to pay hefty Manhattan hotel bills. I covered her trial for The New York Times in 2019; she was convicted on eight counts and sentenced to four to 12 years in prison.
After moving through five correctional facilities, Sorokin was released in February 2021. Six weeks later, she was rearrested by immigration authorities for having overstayed her visa. She has spent the past year in ICE detention, where she is fighting deportation to Germany.
Over several phone calls to the Orange County Correctional Facility in Goshen, New York, Sorokin spoke about the Netflix show (for which she was a paid consultant), life in detention and the looming question of remorse. The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
I don't think this is such a controversial or radical thought: that prison is really a waste of time and it's not efficient
Q: Back in 2019, around the time of your trial, you told me: "The thing is, I'm not sorry" for the financial crimes you were accused of. The quote has followed you around ever since, and was even the first question brought up in your parole board hearing.
A: I told the parole board that I felt like I was taken out of context. And I said you showed up as a surprise, and my feelings from that trial were really fresh. I did feel quite defiant. It was just really a couple of days after my guilty verdict. I was still processing.
Q: What would your answer be now?
A: I feel sorry for the way my case is being perceived. And I feel sorry that I resorted to these actions that people think I'm glorifying now. I feel sorry for the choices I've made. Definitely, I don't feel like the world would be a better place if people were just trying to be more like me.
Q: The Netflix series Inventing Anna is about a very specific point in time in your life – your mid-20s. You're 31 now. Do you feel that you've changed?
A: I feel like I changed immensely just due to the fact that I've been exposed to so many people and just seeing other people's walks of life. Even though I thought I was so well travelled and I lived in Europe, lived in the States and lived in different countries, I was so sheltered. Having been to prison and having been through the criminal justice system, it just exposed me to a whole different kind of a person, and my problems before just seem ridiculous.
Q: If you could go back in time, would you go back and do things differently?
A: With the benefit of hindsight, I would have changed lots of things, but this is just not how life works. So I am just building on my experiences and learning from them.
Q: Netflix paid you $320,000 (€280,000) for your life rights to the series, and you consulted on the project. (A Netflix spokesperson would not confirm the figure but wrote that the payments were made to an escrow account monitored by New York State's Office of Victim Services.)
A: Yes, and that's why, to reference that BBC interview where I was asked "Does crime pay?," I could not honestly say no, in my situation, because I did get paid. For me to say no would just be denying the obvious. I didn't say that crime pays in general.
Q: How has that money been used?
A: I paid $198,000-something for restitution, which I have paid off in its entirety and right away, and the rest of it to my legal fees.
Q: Your social media presence has also played a part in your remaining detention. You made quite the hyperbolic statements there while you were out last year.
A: I always saw my social media as satire. It was never meant to be serious. Part of me throwing my story around and using my voice is to put more public awareness on the nonsensical things inmates have to go through every day.
Q: Julia Fox read an article you wrote for Business Insider and shared it to her Instagram story. She called you "my dear sis" and said you're "killing it from behind bars." How do you know Julia?
A: We have some mutual friends – she is a girl about town. We actually connected on Instagram when I was out, and we DM'd a bit, and then she jumped on my Clubhouse, which was really random. I was answering people's questions about my experience, and she made the forum so much better. She asked all the right questions. We have a similar sense of humour. She was never judgmental, and we've stayed in touch ever since.
She has lots of interesting creative projects going on, and I feel like the media is not doing her justice talking about her dating life. We are actually working on a little something together.
Q: Do tell.
A: Really soon.
I have not heard of a single success story of someone being arrested and finding a good free immigration lawyer while in jail
Q: Let's talk more about your Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention. You were released from serving your sentence and then rearrested six weeks later based on overstaying your visa.
A: ICE came to see me three times, starting in December 2020, and the final time they just let me know: We're not interested in you. So I was in shock when I was arrested. I knew it was a possibility, but nothing had changed in my circumstances from six weeks before. So it's flabbergasting. Why not arrest me straight out of prison? It's not like I fell through the cracks. (A spokesperson for ICE would not comment on the specifics of Sorokin's ICE detention.)
I don’t think this is such a controversial or radical thought: that prison is really a waste of time and it’s not efficient. Between my arrest and my release, the first officials who asked me any questions about my crime were the parole board.
There are programmes for people with drug addiction and people who are sexual offenders and programmes for violent inmates. But there’s absolutely nothing for financial crimes. I took a programme for culinary arts. That has to say something about this system.
Q: Many of the people inside ICE do not speak English. You've spent some time trying to help non-English speakers without lawyers push through the system, but it's been a struggle for you and for them.
A: It's just really hard to find what your options are. There's no way to do your own research here whatsoever. The books are from like 20 years ago. I've yet to find any immigration cases that even resemble mine.
I have a lawyer, but some people here don’t, because you cannot be a burden to the government while defending your immigration case. You either have to find some charity that will help you or represent yourself.
I have not heard of a single success story of someone being arrested and finding a good free immigration lawyer while in jail. The system is predatory: You’re set up for failure.
Q: What do you have with you in your cell?
A: My cell is pretty depressing. I have a whole bin of just legal paperwork. I have lots of books – mainly books. And some trail mix to snack on. It is as austere as it can get.
Q: What are you reading now?
A: I just actually started Super Pumped, by Mike Isaac – it's the Uber story. So I'm reading that for nonfiction, and for fiction I'm reading We Need to Talk About Kevin. I just got through all of a Jonathan Franzen book. I wouldn't say I binged, but I read The Corrections, which I never would have gotten through on the outside, and I read Purity as well. I have not read Crossroads – the new one – because last time I asked it was not available in softcover, and I cannot have hardcovers.
Q: Do you have any friends at Goshen?
A: There are people I've been friendly with, but they've all left. I'm just kind of doing my thing and I'm writing. I do have a lot going on and just kind of trying to manage my projects.
Q: The Netflix show is a fictionalised version of one set time in your life. Beyond the series, what would you like viewers to know about you?
A: There is definitely a lot more to my story that I'd like to share. With that in mind, I'm working on multiple projects. I'm working on a documentary project with Bunim Murray Productions in Los Angeles. I'm also working on a book about my time in jail and working on a podcast as well.
I'm not trying to encourage people to commit crimes. I'm just trying to shed light on how I made the best out of my situation, without trying to glorify it. This is what I'm creating out of that story. – This article originally appeared in The New York Times