29 Dec 2020
New York state is using its “Son of Sam” law to claw back the profits from a crime, a step it hasn’t taken since at least 2001.
The law, which dates to 1977, prohibits convicts from making money from their crimes through lucrative book and movie deals. State legislators created the law after reports that serial killer David Berkowitz, who was dubbed the “Son of Sam,” was being offered money for a tell-all about his crimes.
Last year, the New York state attorney general’s office invoked the “profits of a crime” provision of the 1977 law. The office filed a lawsuit against Anna Sorokin, saying she shouldn’t get paid from streaming platform Netflix Inc. for a coming television series based on her life story called “Inventing Anna.” In tandem, the state Office of Victim Services, or OVS, exercised its right to confiscate the money. The state agency, established in 1966, provides compensation and other services to victims of crime.
In 2019 Ms. Sorokin, 29 years old, was convicted of second-degree grand larceny, theft of services and first-degree attempted grand larceny in a state criminal court in Manhattan. Prosecutors in the Manhattan district attorney’s office said she presented herself as a wealthy German heiress with an overseas trust fund. She was actually a Russian immigrant who prosecutors said defrauded banks, hotels, acquaintances and a private-jet company to pay for an extravagant lifestyle of designer clothing and blending into Manhattan social circles.
Ms. Sorokin, who previously went by the name Anna Delvey, was sentenced to four to 12 years in prison and ordered to pay nearly $200,000 in restitution and a $24,000 fine. She is serving her sentence at Albion Correctional Facility but is expected to be paroled in February after a state parole board granted her an early release for a good disciplinary record. She could face deportation to Germany by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement due to a visa-waiver overstay, which her lawyer Todd Spodek said is likely.
The OVS froze $140,000 that Ms. Sorokin received from Netflix in 2019, clearing the way for two of her victims, both banks, to pursue court action. City National Bank N.A. was successful in securing $100,000 of the frozen funds in September after filing a lawsuit in Albany County Supreme Court.
Citibank N.A. laid claim to the other $40,000 from the Netflix deal. The bank is owed $70,000 in damages, which will be paid out with a court order. Ms. Sorokin is still receiving money from a contact with Netflix that will account for Citibank’s remaining restitution money, according to Mr. Spodek.
Netflix declined to give a statement on its contract with Anna Sorokin.
Ms. Sorokin hired an additional lawyer, Audrey Thomas, who helped her file a motion in October to release the money earmarked for Citibank so she could pay for her legal fees to fight her anticipated deportation. Citibank and the OVS both opposed the motion, which was ultimately rejected by a New York State Supreme Court judge in November.
Citibank declined to comment on the status of the funds in escrow.
“This story never ends,” Mr. Spodek said. “I’m one of the few people who actually has her back and is trying to help her close this chapter and move on.”
OVS said that before Ms. Sorokin, it had frozen money in 25 cases involving a convict profiting from a crime, clawing back a total of $95,000, between 1977 and the 2001 amendment. A crime victim, however, can also decide to pursue an action under the law on their own without any involvement from OVS.
By Emma Tucker, The Wall Street Journal, 28 December 2020
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