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How Anna Delvey Managed to Scam Her Way Into a $35,000 Charter Plane Ride

“Have you ever gone to a restaurant and gotten full-service treatment and said, ‘I’ll pay you later?’ Of course not, it doesn’t work like that”

Anna Sorokin is escorted into a courtroom after a recess in her trial at New York State Supreme Court, in New York. Sorokin, who claimed to be a German heiress, is on trial on grand larceny and theft of services chargesFake Heiress, New York, USA - 04 Apr 2019

Anna Sorokin is escorted into a courtroom after a recess in her trial at New York State Supreme Court, in New York.

Richard Drew/AP/REX/Shutterstock

One of the most striking takeaways of the trial of Anna Delvey, née Sorokin, a.k.a. the “Soho Grifter,” the self-styled German “heiress” who is accused of bilking hotels and restaurants of hundreds of thousands of dollars, is just how easy it was for her to gain access to institutions that had primarily been the purview of the fabulously wealthy.

Blade, the crowdsourced flight and charter jet app used by the rich and famous, was apparently no exception. On Monday, Kathleen McCormack, the former CFO of Blade, testified that the startup had allowed Delvey to book a charter flight to Omaha, Nebraska to the tune of more than $35,000 without requiring her to pay in advance, in large part because the CEO of the startup had “socialized” with her and vouched for her finances.

According to McCormack’s testimony, Delvey had booked a flight from Morristown, New Jersey to Omaha, Nebraska (it has been previously reported that she flew there to attend Berkshire Hathaway’s annual shareholders meeting). She then flew back to New Jersey from Omaha on May 9th, a trip that cost a total of $35,390.

Typically, those who use Blade are required to pay in advance to book charter flights, yet McCormack testified that occasionally, Blade would allow customers who’d flown with Blade previously to delay initial payment. “We’ve let people slide in the past, quite frankly, and they’ve paid,” she testified. Although Delvey had not flown with Blade before, “our CEO [Rob Wiesenthal] had briefly socially run into her, and him knowing her through those circles, we felt she was good for payment so we booked her for the flight,” McCormack testified. (Wiesenthal is not on the witness list for Delvey’s trial.)

When Blade had not received Delvey’s payment by the following month, McCormack was assigned to the case. In a series of emails that were presented in court, McCormack demanded that Delvey settle her bill, with Delvey responding by saying that the payment was en route, as well as offering such excuses as the fact that she was “locked out of her Gmail account.” At a certain point, Wiesenthal had to intervene to threaten to approach the authorities, which the company eventually did in August 2017. (In a statement to Rolling Stone, Blade said that it had received oral confirmation of payment from its bank and Deutsche Bank prior to Delvey taking the flight. A wire transfer from Deutsche Bank that Blade received in late June turned out to be fraudulent.)

In an interview with Rolling Stone, Todd Spodek, Delvey’s defense attorney, essentially put the onus on Blade for failing to demand payment from Delvey up-front: “Have you ever gone to a restaurant and gotten full-service treatment and said, ‘I’ll pay you later?’ Of course not, it doesn’t work like that,” he said. “I’m not sure how Blade was operating to be able to say, ‘OK, $35,000? No problem. Pay us at some later point.'”

Spodek argued that despite Blade’s repeated attempts to later obtain payment from Delvey, they essentially “gave her the free flight” due to her purported status as a wealthy and influential jet-setter. “They believed she was some German heiress. They believed she was some trendsetter who was gonna Instagram it up. And they gave her the plane.” (During her testimony, McCormack denied that Blade gave free flights to so-called “influencers,” claiming that the startup had a strict policy prohibiting such transactions.)

The trial also featured the testimony of Dennis Onabajo, a former Fortress banker who was tasked with vetting Delvey when she applied for a multi-million-dollar loan. Onabajo testified that Fortress bank hired two separate companies to perform background checks on Delvey, which raised concerns about claims she had made about her finances. “We asked Ms. Delvey about such concerns, but did not get much traction,” he said. Emails from Delvey’s accountant, “Peter,” which claimed that Delvey’s source of wealth was an “extensive art collection from medieval times,” also proved inconclusive. As Onabajo’s former supervisor, Spencer Garfield, testified last week, failure to corroborate her letter of credit, as well as Delvey’s failure to provide a good-faith deposit on time, led to Fortress terminating its relationship with Delvey.

Spodek referred to Onabajo as a “key witness” in the case, as he was the Fortress employee tasked with vetting Delvey’s application for a loan. His argument is essentially that despite the fact that Delvey submitted fraudulent documents in order to obtain the loan, she never came anywhere close to receiving it. “The law of attempt is Anna’s actions have to be dangerously close to completing the crime. My position is, irrespective of her actions, they were never anywhere close to committing the crime, because every step of the way, problems were increasing,” he said.

Onabajo also testified that after Delvey’s relationship with Fortress ended, he met with her three separate times for dinner at the hotel where she was staying, 11 Howard, as well as dinner and drinks at the downtown Manhattan restaurants Sant Ambroeus and Le Coucou. During cross-examination, Onabajo denied having romantic interest in Delvey, saying his intention in meeting her for drinks and dinner was to “have more of a business relationship.” Spodek openly laughed at this claim in court, referring to a series of flirtatious texts Onabajo had sent to Delvey. “This man had doubts about everything she was providing to the office, but was trying to network with her? It doesn’t add up. I think it’s clear from the evidence that his interests were of a romantic nature,” he said.

Delvey is facing charges of grand larceny, attempted grand larceny and theft of services. She faces up to 15 years of prison if convicted.

Her case has captured national attention, in part due to the public’s fascination with her high-end court looks, including a low-cut Miu Miu dress during her first court appearance. Recently, Delvey has been dressing much more conservatively during her court appearances, sporting a beige crew-neck sweater and tailored black slacks on Monday. (When asked if Delvey was making a calculated effort to dress more demurely, Spodek said, “I think it’s appropriate to dress conservatively. I don’t think court is the appropriate avenue for a fashion statement.”)

Public fascination with the case also likely stems from our cultural obsession with “scammers,” from Fyre Festival founder Billy MacFarland to Theranos co-founder Elizabeth Holmes. During the trial, Spodek has deliberately painted Delvey not as a conniving con artist, but as a self-made woman skilled enough at reinvention to gain access to some of the most elite institutions in the country. “Irrespective of many of the negative things she may have done, that is a rare skill, and it is a skill that lots of people we adore have, from Steven Spielberg to Bill Gates to Steve Jobs — all of these people who through their own ingenuity make something happen out of nothing,” he said. 

Her aptitude for mimicking the idiosyncrasies of the enormously wealthy, combined with wealthy and powerful gatekeepers’ tendency toward credulity, created the conditions for her to pull off her scam for so long: “Ms. Sorokin played the role that everyone wanted her to be and the doors opened,” he said.

Or, as McCormack put it in her testimony, when asked why Blade made the decision to allow Delvey to book the flight without paying for it up-front: “we all sort of collectively believed that people tell the truth initially.”

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to include Blade’s statement regarding payment.

 

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