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SoHo Scammer Found Guilty of Grand Larceny in Manhattan

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  • Anna Sorokin, nicknamed the “SoHo Scammer” was found guilty of second-degree grand larceny, theft of services and first-degree attempted grand larceny.
  • Sorokin told people in exclusive New York social circles that she was a German heiress named Anna Delvey, when in reality she was born to a middle-class Russian Family.
  • She stole $275,000 dollars from hotels, banks, restaurants, and people while putting on this charade.

What Was She Found Guilty Of?

A jury in Manhattan on Thursday found Anna Sorokin, better known as the “SoHo Scammer” guilty of grand larceny.

Sorokin was convicted of second-degree grand larceny, theft of services and first-degree attempted grand larceny. During her stint as a fake heiress, she stole $275,000 from hotels, restaurants, banks, and people.

She could face up to 15 years in jail for the grand larceny charges. Her sentencing will be on May 9.

Who is Anna Sorokin?

Between 2016 and 2017, Sorokin waltzed around the most elite circles of New York, masquerading under the name of “Anna Delvey, ” a German heiress. In reality, she was born in Russia to a middle-class family. She later lived in Germany, London, and Paris before moving to New York.

Claiming to have $60 million in a trust fund, Sorokin would wear designer clothes, always matched with her signature Céline glasses. She would live for months at a time in the city’s swankiest, newest boutique hotels. Her life consisted of fine dining, luxury spa treatments, and exclusive parties.

She was also working towards owning a property on Park Avenue South to open a contemporary art club. She was found not guilty of first-degree attempted grand larceny for trying to obtain a $22 million bank loan to open said club.

The jury also found her not guilty of stealing from a friend who paid $60,000 for a trip to Morocco. Sorokin said she would cover the trip. When her cards bounced at the $7,000-per-night-resort, she had her friend, Rachel DeLoache Williams, foot the bill, promising to pay her back once her financial situations were sorted. She never did.

“I wish I had never met Anna,”  Williams said in court, according to Rolling Stone. “If I could have gone back in time to not be where I am today, I would. I wouldn’t wish this on anybody.”

According to the New York Times, Sorokin forged financial statements, made up an accountant, and lied about wire transfers. She would tell hotels and businesses that money was on the way from an account in Germany, but those funds never arrived.

“I am very upset that things went that way and I didn’t mean for it to happen,” Sorokin told The Cut, adding that she was not fond of the persona people perceived. “I was never trying to be a socialite. I had dinners, but they were work dinners. I wanted to be taken seriously” 

The Spread of Sorokin’s Story

Sorokin was arrested in October 2017 for these charges. Her story gained public attention in the summer of 2018 when Vanity Fair and The Cut each published stories about Sorokin’s lavish life and the reality behind the curtain. There is also an Instagram account devoted to the outfits she wore at her court appearances, where she was dressed by a celebrity stylist.

Both HBO and Netflix are working on their own series about Sorokin as well. Lena Dunham is pulling the strings on HBO’s project, which will be an adaptation of Vanity Fair’s piece. The Vanity Fair story was penned by Williams, who was one of the outlet’s photo editors at the time.

Shonda Rhimes will be working on the Netflix series and will be working off The Cut’s piece, which centers around a receptionist at 11 Howard, a hotel Sorokin lived in for a lengthy period of time.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Rolling Stone) (GQ)

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Baltimore Held Hostage in Ransomware Attack

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  • A ransomware attack in Baltimore has shut down numerous government servers, preventing citizens from using essential services and blocking city employees from accessing their emails and computers.
  • The attack has been going on for two weeks and Baltimore has refused to pay the ransom.
  • This is the second attack on Baltimore in the last 15 months.
  • A similar attack in Atlanta last year cost the city an estimated $17 million in fixes.

Cyber Attack

Government computer servers in Baltimore, Maryland have been held hostage by hackers for two weeks, preventing citizens from accessing essential services and impending government functions.

The attack occurred on May 7, when hackers breached nearly 10,000 government computers and demanded the city pay them 13 bitcoins, now about $100,000, to get their system networks back.

According to the Baltimore Sun, who obtained a copy of the ransom note, the hackers said they would increase the ransom if the city did not pay in four days. If the city did not pay in 10 days, they said it would not get their information and data back at all.

Both those deadlines have come and gone, and the city has refused to pay the ransom, meaning that the servers that were shut down by the attack are still offline.

The hackers used ransomware called RobbinHood, which uses software to block access to servers. In order to get that access back, you need a sort of “digital key.” If the ransom is paid, the hackers would give the city that key. According to experts, replicating the key without the help of the hackers is essentially impossible.

Baltimore officials were first alerted to the ransomware attack when the Department of Public Works reported that their email servers had been shut down.

Once the city realized what was going on, the Office of Information Technology shut down most of the city’s non-emergency system, so the attack would not spread further.

Impact

It is not clear how widespread the attack was because the infected systems are still down.

City officials have said that emergency services like 911 dispatch were not affected by the attack, but it has still impacted the citizens of Baltimore and city employees.

Certain systems are down, so residents have not been able to access essential services, like the websites where they pay water bills, property taxes, and parking tickets.

City employees have been locked out of their emails for two weeks now, forcing them to use their own laptops and personal e-mail addresses to get work done.

The issue of government employees using private servers and personal accounts could raise questions about transparency and accountability, as those are practices usually not allowed under normal circumstances.

The attack has also hurt Baltimore’s property market because officials cannot access systems required for real estate sales.

“We are well into the restorative process, and as I’ve indicated, are cooperating with the FBI on their investigation. Due to that investigation, we are not able to share information about the attack.” Baltimore Mayor Jack Young said in a press release. “As I’ve mentioned previously, we engaged leading industry cybersecurity experts who are on-site 24-7 working with us.”

Mayor Young did not say how bad the damage was, nor did he give a definitive timeline for recovery.

“Some of the restoration efforts also require that we rebuild certain systems to make sure that when we restore business functions,” he said. “I am not able to provide you with an exact timeline on when all systems will be restored.”

Other Instances of Cyber Attacks

The attack on Baltimore has raised questions about the importance of safeguarding cities against cyber attacks. This is especially true for Baltimore, as the ransomware marks the second cyber attack the city has had in the last 15 months.

Just last March, a different attack shut down the city’s 911 system for nearly a whole day, forcing dispatchers to give first-responders essential information about emergencies by phone instead of electronically.

While any number of cities or companies are susceptible to being hacked, some experts have argued that Baltimore is especially vulnerable.

“I think broadly they are not prepared for these sorts of things, they do not have the budget,” said Bill Siegel, a chief executive at Coveware told the Wallstreet Journal. His firm helps various entities that have experienced cyber attacks and he said, “I think it’s pretty obvious that they have not been able to stay ahead of it.”

That is not for lack of trying. After last year’s attack, Baltimore City Council President Brandon Scott pushed city officials to invest in strengthening the city’s cyber defenses.

According to Ars Technica, Baltimore’s information security manager also warned that the city needed a formal policy to address cybersecurity during budget hearings last year.

However, the budget did not include any funding for that policy or any other investments in information technology infrastructure. Now it’s coming back to bite them.

That said, Baltimore is not alone. Just the last year, more than 20 different municipalities have been hit by cyber attacks. Last month, Greenville, North Carolina was hit with a similar attack that used the same RobbinHood ransomware.

Last year, Atlanta made headlines when hackers demanded that the city pay $50,000 in bitcoins in another ransomware attack. Like Baltimore, both Greenville and Atlanta refused to pay the ransom.

While that’s exactly what experts and law enforcement officials recommend, often times, the costs of a cyber attack can be much higher than the ransom requested.

According to a report obtained by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and WSB-TV, the attack in Atlanta ended up costing nearly $17 million to fix.

Unlike Baltimore, Greenville and Atlanta had insurance to cover cybersecurity incidents, so hypothetically, Baltimore could pay even more than Atlanta to restore the city after the hack.

Cybersecurity experts had said it probably will take months for Baltimore to recover, and the costs are expected to be extremely high, which is a burden that could end up in the hands of taxpayers.

See what others are saying: (Vox) (The Wall Street Journal) (The Baltimore Sun)

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“Save Chick-fil-A” Bill Passes Texas House

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  • Republicans proposed a measure dubbed the “Save Chick-fil-A” bill after San Antonio refused to let a Chick-fil-A open in the city’s airport because of its support of anti-LGBT groups.
  • The bill says that the government cannot take adverse action against a person or company based on their religious beliefs.
  • It passed through Texas’ Senate last week and passed in the House on Monday.
  • Democrats fear that the move will allow for discrimination against the LGBTQ community.

What Started the Bill?

The Texas House passed a piece of legislation on Monday dubbed the “Save Chick-fil-A” bill.

The bill was created after the San Antonio City Council voted to block a Chick-fil-A from opening in the city’s airport. City Councilman Roberto Treviño released a statement saying that San Antonio does “not have room in our public facilities for a business with a legacy of anti-LGBTQ behavior.”

The anti-LGBTQ behavior he referred to includes Chick-fil-A’s reputation for donating to groups with anti-LGBTQ agendas. According to ThinkProgress, the company gave $1.8 million to a variety of charities known to promote anti-LBGTQ messaging in 2017. One of the charities, The Fellowship of Christian Athletes, received $1.6 million dollars, and bars employees from participating in “homosexual acts.”

What Does the Bill Say?

Texas Republicans disagreed with San Antonio’s vote. Attorney General Ken Paxton opened an investigation into whether or not this violated the first amendment, while members of State Congress started drafting a controversial piece of legislation.

Their bill says that the government cannot take any “adverse action” against a person or company based on their “sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction.”

Getting the bill to this point was not easy for Texas politicians. A version drafted by the House was killed by Democrats earlier in the month. The state’s Senate then pushed its own version though, which passed on Thursday with a vote of 19-12.

According to NBC News, the vote was held without prior notification, meaning that the public did not have the opportunity to provide their take on the bill before the vote took place.

On Monday, the bill then passed in the House with a vote of 79-62, with only one Republican voting against it. The House ended up making some changes to the legislation before giving it their okay. Their amendment removed a section that gave the state’s attorney general the right to bring forward lawsuits against cities to “enforce compliance.”

Democrats Fear LGBTQ Discrimination

Democrats fear that this bill will allow for discrimination against the LGBTQ community in the state. Texas’ LGBTQ Caucus fought against the bill, which was debated for two hours on the house floor on Monday.

During the debate, a member of the caucus, Rep. Erin Zwiener, said that the bill would be an attack on LGBTQ Texans.

“Members, this bill is here, being debated on the floor today, to make LGBTQ Texans feel less than, to make us feel attacked by our government,” she said.

Rep. Julie Johnson, an out lesbian and one of the founders of the LGBTQ caucus also spoke out against the bill. Johnson told NBC News it was a “concerted effort to violate the constitutional protections that we’ve had for centuries with the separation of church and state.”

However, Republicans maintain that the bill is about protecting religious freedoms and companies like Chick-fil-A. Rep. Matt Krause, who sponsored the bill, said that it does not discriminate.

“Look at the language in this bill,” he said. “There is nothing discriminatory in the language. … There is nothing discriminatory in the intent.”

What Comes Next

The House is expected to toss the bill back to the Senate on Tuesday for final approval of the changes. Once the Senate approves the House’s changes, it gets sent over to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk.

Abbott has already indicated his support for the bill. On Monday he tweeted he would let us know if he would sign the bill after eating dinner, along with a photo of a Chick-fil-A cup on his desk.

However, even if he passes it, some think it will see blocks in court.

“I have no doubt that if passed, SB 1978 will be fought in the courts at every level and at great expense to the taxpayers.” Rep. Johnson said. “To vote yes today is to put your signature on that invoice.”

See what others are saying: (NBC News) (Texas Tribune) (San Antonio Express)

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Billionaire Pledges to Pay Loan Debt of This Year’s Morehouse College Graduates

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  • Billionaire investor Robert F. Smith promised to pay off the student loan debt of the 2019 graduates at Morehouse College, an all-male historically black school in Atlanta, Georgia.
  • Though the exact amount of the class’ debt is still being calculated, the gift is expected to be around $40 million.
  • This is just one of Smith’s major donations in recent years.

A Generous Gift

Billionaire tech investor and philanthropist Robert F. Smith said he will pay off the student debt for all graduates in Morehouse College’s class of 2019.

Smith announced the news on Sunday while delivering the commencement address at the all-male historically black college in Atlanta, Georgia.

“On behalf of the eight generations of my family who have been in this country, we’re gonna put a little fuel in your bus,” he said. “This is my class, 2019. And my family is making a grant to eliminate their student loans.”

His announcement shocked the nearly 400 graduates, who reacted with cheers and applause.

One graduating student named Aaron Mitchom told the Associated Press that he had drawn up a spreadsheet to calculate how long it would take him to pay off his $200,000 in student debt. According to his math, it would take him about 25 years.

“I can delete that spreadsheet,” he told the AP after the commencement. “I don’t have to live off of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I was shocked. My heart dropped. We all cried. In the moment it was like a burden had been taken off.”

Brandon Manor, another graduate, told the New York Times, “Now all of a sudden, I can look at schools I might not have considered, because I am not applying with about $100,000 in undergraduate loans.”

Who is Robert F. Smith?

Smith, the founder and CEO of the private equity firm Vista Equity Partners, is worth an estimated $5 billion and is the richest black man in America, according to Forbes.

The 56-year-old who originally hails from Colorado but now lives in Austin went to Cornell for his undergraduate degree and earned a B.S. in chemical engineering. Afterward, Smith earned his MBA from Columbia Business School.

He went on to work for several companies like Kraft General Foods and then Goldman Sachs, advising companies like Apple and Microsoft before founding his own investment firm.

What does this gift mean?

Smith’s pledge stunned administrators, who called it the largest single gift in the school’s history. The donation also comes at a time where student loan debt has soared to roughly $1.5 trillion, according to recent Federal Reserve data.

Morehouse President David A. Thomas called the gesture “a liberation gift,” telling CNN, “When you have to service debt, the choices about what you can go do in the world are constrained.”

“(Smith’s gift) gives them the liberty to follow their dreams, their passions.”

According to Thomas, the total amount of student debt for the class is still being calculated but the Associated Press estimated that the gift is worth about $40 million.

In return, Smith says he expects the graduating class to pay it forward to give future classes the same opportunity one day.

“Let’s make sure every class has the same opportunity going forward, because we are enough to take care of our own community,” he said.

“We are enough to ensure we have all of the opportunities of the American dream, and we will show it to each other through our actions and through our words and through our deeds.”

Other Major Donations

The billionaire tech executive has managed to stay under the radar for much of his career. While this major donation has thrust him into the spotlight, it is far from his first generous gift.

In 2016, he pledged a $20 million gift to the National Museum of African American History and Culture. That same year, he donated $50 million to Cornell University to go towards its chemical and biomolecular engineering school, and to support black and female engineering students.

In 2017, Smith signed The Giving Pledge, a commitment by some of the world’s richest people – including Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffet – who have promises to giving most of their wealth to philanthropy. In 2018, he gave $2.5 million to the Prostate Cancer Foundation to focus on research and care for African-American men and veterans with prostate cancer.

Before Sunday’s graduation speech, Smith had already donated $1.5 million to Morehouse for scholarships and a new park.

See what others are saying (The New York  Times) (Forbes) (Time)


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