Sometimes, it seems like all eyes are on Anna Delvey.
The 32-year-old would-be art philanthropist — whose legal name is Anna Sorokin, though she still goes by the pseudonym of Delvey — was arrested and later convicted in 2019 of stealing more than $200,000 from banks, hotels, and restaurants. Since then, she has been the subject of two magazine exposes, lampooned on Saturday Night Live, dramatized in Netflix’s “Inventing Anna,” and interviewed by countless media outlets — all seeking to understand the story of her fraud and deception of New York’s art and fashion elite.
The fixation has extended to Harvard’s campus, where Delvey’s story has been studied in at least four classes; depending on who you ask, she’s a deft con woman, a study in performance, a self-taught mimic of the upper class. Most recently, at the Harvard Business School, she took questions via Zoom last week from students in the course HBS 1377: “Borderline,” a class taught by professor Eugene F. Soltes ’04 on white-collar crime and the “murky side of the business world.”
Everybody wants to make sense of the Anna Delvey phenomenon — everybody, it seems, except for Anna Delvey.
“It feels like people kind of assign too much meaning,” Delvey says in an interview. “They just project a lot.”
“It was never that deep,” she adds.
Delvey is speaking to us over Zoom from an apartment in New York City’s East Village, where she is on house arrest as she fights deportation for overstaying her visa. Delvey was born in Russia and raised in Germany. As per her publicists’ stipulations, she can interview only through audio: She is a black box on our laptop screen.
However, during her lecture to the HBS class the prior day, which was closed to the media, she appeared on camera wearing a full face of makeup, deliberately lit. She sported a crimson sweatshirt emblazoned with the Harvard Undergraduate Beekeepers logo.
Delvey’s behavior suggested a sort of performed indifference, according to multiple HBS students in the class. Delvey, the students say, was aloof and gave short, evasive answers — an evaluation Delvey says is understandable. At one point, she was filing her nails; at another, the students say, she told the class she was bored. A publicist for Delvey later clarifies that she said she finds house arrest boring.
Delvey tells us that she felt the talk was no different than the speaking invitations she gets “all the time.” Nevertheless, she says, she found the reaction on social media to the news of her talk at Harvard “really funny.”
“It’s just another opportunity to see how stupid mainstream media is, and people on Twitter,” she says. “That’s all it is.”
Delvey gets frustrated by people — particularly, the media — trying to rehash her contentious past. They seem to want her to show some sign of remorse, she says, but she’s “not really interested.”
“Even though I’ve said it so many times, over and over, in my prior interviews, people just want to hear you say it to them,” Delvey says. “I’m just saying, regret is looking back and not accepting who you are today. I don’t know. You didn’t get a choice to go back and fix your mistakes.”
“So, what’s the point?” she says. “Just learn from it and move on.”
Soltes, the Business School professor, won’t speak about Anna Delvey because he has a longstanding policy to not publicly comment on guests in his course, he says.
But he does have thoughts about white-collar crime more generally; for years, Soltes corresponded with dozens of white-collar offenders, from Bernie Madoff to former staff at Enron. He is open about grappling with the ethics of inviting criminals to Harvard, even in an academic context, without legitimizing their behavior.
Nevertheless, he says the work has given him a “deeper sense of humility” and an intimate understanding of the ethical and legal gray areas of business.
“I think we have a tendency to see the world as very black and white,” he says. “That simple dichotomy of good and bad oversimplifies things.”
“We all tell white lies. Luckily, most of those lies are pretty innocent, or we could say, exaggerations,” Soltes continues. “But obviously, in different contexts, like for example, if you’re raising funding, those exaggerations can actually turn into fraud, and we want to understand those distinctions.”
He finds that white-collar criminals tend to not be remorseful about their crimes. White-collar offenses aren’t necessarily rooted in wishing harm upon others, but rather in seeking success in personal endeavors; the harm registers as “an externality associated with some other goal,” Soltes says. But, Soltes is careful to mention, the harm is still very real.
“The people sitting in a boardroom or sitting in a conference room, the distance between them — both physically, temporally, psychologically — and the ultimate victims are fairly far removed. You’re not having to go up to someone to take their wallet,” Soltes says. “No one that I’ve ever invited to class has been what we call a ‘pickpocket,’ but many of them have actually created dramatically more harm on many more people — in the same way that the world’s most effective pickpocket could — by literally stealing people’s money.”
Soltes says that through his research, he has found the most effective white-collar criminals don’t consider themselves to be criminals at all. He likens this view to someone driving 65 miles per hour in a 55 lane — though technically illegal, the driver would likely never second-guess themself — until they’re pulled over by the cops.
“The best way of being a great fraudster is if you believe the story you’re telling yourself,” Soltes explains. “Because you actually believe what you’re doing is actually justifiable or rational, you’ll be able to rationalize it. You don’t have to trick yourself.”
We ask if this analysis applies to Delvey. Soltes pauses, then laughs.
“I’m going to choose not to answer that one,” he says.
Delvey’s return to the public eye has been swift and immediate. She’s taken several interviews with high-profile media outlets, spoke at the Columbia School of Journalism, and says she’s been invited to Oxford and New York Universities. She has an array of new projects she’s working on from house arrest: a podcast, a reality show called “Delvey’s Dinner Club,” a book, and an NFT collection called “Reinventing Anna,” named after the TV show.
She has also ventured into the art world, selling hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of sketches drawn during her stint in prison: “I feel like I was way more creative when I was in jail,” she says.
Nevertheless, she says she wants to move away from the art and entertainment industries, possibly turning toward law or criminal justice reform — inspired by her experience in Rikers Island. When asked if she’d ever consider applying to Harvard, she’s dismissive: “I just don’t feel like it’s the best use of my time. I feel like you can just, like, read a book.”
Despite all the attention — and despite all her new, very publicized projects — Delvey maintains that she doesn’t see herself as capitalizing on her notoriety for fame or money.
“I never asked for any of this,” she says. “I never wanted to be famous.”
“I’m going to be written about regardless,” she adds. All she can do, she says, is tell her own story about how she “flipped it around” without “glorifying” her past.
“I wouldn’t want to be seen as an example, ‘Oh yeah, go commit crimes, or fraud, and be famous,’” she adds. “Hopefully people will take it the right way.”
But the speculation, the media frenzies, the ravenous desire for scandal — these, Delvey says, aren’t going away. The real Anna Sorokin gets subsumed by Anna Delvey, the TV character, whose story will always be grist for the entertainment mill.
“I don’t think people are really interested in what the truth is. I think people just want to be entertained,” she says, calling it the ultimate “purpose” of “news and media.”
“Nobody wants to read about, ‘Oh, maybe Anna is not so crazy. Maybe she’s not such a big criminal.’ Like, nobody cares,” she adds. “Why should people be bothered?”
In the short term, Delvey says, she’s “just trying to get out of house arrest.” We exchange pleasantries, and moments later, the Zoom black box — and the real Anna — disappear.
—Magazine writer Ellyssa J. Jeong can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
—Magazine writer Elias J. Schisgall can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @eschisgall.