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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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UCLA Drops Controversial Facial Recognition Plan

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  • After backlash from students and activist groups, UCLA is dropping its plans to use facial recognition on campus.
  • Critics said the software often fails when recognizing women and people of color, and could lead to racial profiling. 
  • UCLA released a statement, just over a week before a National Day of Action to Ban Facial Recognition from College Campuses is set to be held, saying that the school longer thinks the technology would be effective at the school.
  • The use of facial recognition software on college campuses and on a national level has long been a subject of debate. Several cities have already banned it, and last week, two Senators proposed legislation banning it on a federal level unless Congressional guidelines are enacted. 

UCLA Stops Plans to Use Facial Recognition

After backlash from students and activists, the University of California, Los Angeles has dropped its plans to use facial recognition technology on its campus.

UCLA announced plans to potentially use it in its security systems. Students were concerned that this technology could interfere with students’ privacy and lead to racial profiling on campus. 

“We have determined that the potential benefits are limited and are vastly outweighed by the concerns of the campus community,” Michael Beck, the Administrative Vice-Chancellor of the school said in a statement to Fight for the Future, a group advocating for freedom in the digital age.

Fight for the Future is holding a National Day of Action to Ban Facial Recognition from College Campuses on March 2. The group had been very vocal when encouraging UCLA not to adopt facial recognition. They did a test on how effective it would be at the school and found racial biases in its algorithm.

Inaccuracies in Facial Recognition

Fight for the Future used Rekognition, a software made available by Amazon, and scanned publicly available photos of UCLA athletes and faculty and compared them to a mugshot database. They scanned 400 faces in total and said that 58 were falsely matched. 

“The vast majority of incorrect matches were of people of color,” Fight for the Future said of their findings. “In many cases, the software matched two individuals who had almost nothing in common beyond their race, and claimed they were the same person with ‘100% confidence.’”

They are not the only group to find this. According to a study from the National Institute of Standards and Technology, in terms of one-to-one matching, there are higher rates of false positives for Asian and African American faces in comparison to white faces. They specifically noticed increased false positives when it came to African American females.

Student Concerns

Students at UCLA expressed their concerns about this. An editorial in the school’s paper, the Daily Bruin, warned against using facial recognition because of the potential inaccuracies and profiling of people of color.

“For students belonging to these groups, facial recognition technology would simply reinforce the biases that are already stacked against them,” the piece said. The editorial listed privacy as a concern as well.

“Facial recognition technology would present a major breach of students’ privacy and make students feel unsafe on a campus they are supposed to call home,” the Daily Bruin editorial staff wrote. “It is one thing to monitor campus activity with security cameras, but it’s another entirely to automatically identify individuals and track their every move on campus.”

Students and advocacy groups like Fight for the Future were pleased with UCLA’s ultimate decision to not use facial recognition.

“Let this be a lesson to other school administrators: if you try to experiment on your campus with racist, invasive surveillance technology, we will come for you. And we don’t lose,” Deputy Director of Fight for the Future, Evan Greer, said in a statement.

Facial Recognition on a National Scale

UCLA is not the only college in the United States having a conversation about facial recognition. Fight for the Future has been keeping a scorecard of schools that have stated their intentions on using facial recognition. While big schools like Harvard, MIT, Michigan State, and NYU have said they do not intend on using it, other major colleges like Ohio State, Princeton, and the University of Georgia have stated that they might. 

Outside of colleges, other localities have already been working on fighting against facial recognition technology. In 2019, San Francisco became the first U.S. city to ban facial recognition technology. Somerville, MA, Oakland, CA and Berkeley, CA did the same months later. 

Still, this kind of technology is still used on a wide scale. According to Vox, in states like Texas, Florida, and Illinois, the FBI uses it to scan through DMV databases. In many U.S. airports, Customs and Border Protection uses it for screening passengers on international flights. 

Recently Proposed Legislation

The national use of this could be subject to change, though. In February, Senators Jeff Merkley (D-)R) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) proposed legislation that would ban federal use of facial recognition until proper regulations and rules had been established by Congress for it.

“Facial recognition is a technology that is increasingly being used and marketed to law enforcement agencies across the United States without appropriate debate or consideration of its impacts,” the bill said before describing that this technology has been used at protests, rallies, and other events where one’s’ freedom of speech is on display.

“It is critical that facial recognition not be used to suppress First Amendment related activities, violate privacy, or otherwise adversely impact individuals’ civil rights and civil liberties,” the legislation continued. 

This legislation would still allow law enforcement to use it if given a court order.

See what others are saying: (Vice) (USA Today) (TechCrunch)

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Fashion Institute Apologizes for ‘Racist’ Runway Look

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  • In a Feb. 7 Fashion Institute of Technology runway show, models were asked to wear oversized prosthetic lips and ears, along with bushy eyebrows. 
  • Amy Lefévre, a black model, refused to wear the accessories and called them racist for recalling offensive caricatures of black people. 
  • Many agreed with Lefévre and criticized the designer and the showrunners for the display.
  • Multiple leaders at FIT have issued apologies in the wake of the backlash.

Controversial Accessories

Several head figures at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology have issued apologies after a runway show featured designs that many have labeled “racist.”

The show was held on Feb. 7 to debut designs of graduating students. For one look, designed by Junkai Huang, models were asked to wear oversized prosthetic lips and ears, as well as bushy, large eyebrows. Amy Lefévre, a black model, was horrified at the request. 

“As soon as I saw the pieces, I started shaking. I felt it was very racist,” Lefévre told TODAY

Lefévre said she verbally expressed her discomfort with the accessories, which to her were reminiscent of offensive caricatures of black people that emphasize those features. But Richard Thornn, the producer of the show, allegedly brushed off her resistance.

According to TODAY, Lefévre claims that he told her, “it’s only 45 seconds. It’s fine to feel uncomfortable for 45 seconds.”

The 25-year-old refused to don the accessories and walked in the show without them. However, other models in the show wore the additions, and these looks were seen by an audience of about 100 people as well as captured by photographers.

Reactions and Responses

Upon seeing the pictures from the show and catching wind of Lefévre‘s protest, many Internet users supported the model and condemned both the designer and the institution for allowing it.  

“Junkai Huang should go back to school for something other than fashion because his designs are racist and this is unacceptable,” one person tweeted. “FIT how could you allow this?”

In the wake of the backlash, FIT President Joyce Brown issued a public letter on Tuesday. 

“As many of you now know, there was an unfortunate and disturbing reaction to the show that I want to address,” Joyce wrote.

She claimed that no offense was meant.

“Currently, it does not appear that the original intent of the design, the use of accessories or the creative direction of the show was to make a statement about race; however, it is now glaringly obvious that has been the outcome,” Brown added. “For that, we apologize—to those who participated in the show, to students, and to anybody who has been offended by what they saw.”

Brown said the school is taking steps to “ensure that a situation like this will not happen again” by working with groups including their Diversity Council and Student Government.   

Jonathan Kyle Farmer, the chair of the MFA program at FIT who ran the show, posted an apology on Wednesday acknowledging Lefévre directly.

“It was never our intent for the show’s styling to be interpreted as racist or to make people feel uncomfortable but I now fully understand why this has happened,” Farmer said. “I take full responsibility and am committed to learning from this situation and taking steps to do better.”

//www.instagram.com/embed.js

This is by no means the first racially-insensitive blunder that the fashion industry has made. Last year, Gucci came under fire for releasing a black turtleneck with lips that could be pulled around the face, resembling blackface. Burberry faced backlash for a sweatshirt featuring a noose-like drawstring around the neck. In 2018, H&M was slammed for an ad featuring a black boy wearing a pullover that read “coolest monkey in the jungle.” 

Many seem to be fed up with these errors. 

“How do people not understand that this isn’t ok and keep doing it again and again and again?” one Instagram user commented on a picture of the show posted by a fashion industry watchdog account. 

See what others are saying: (USA Today) (BBC) (Washington Post)

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George Zimmerman Sues Warren and Buttigieg for Defamation Over Trayvon Martin Commemoration Tweets

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  • George Zimmerman is suing Pete Buttigieg and Elizabeth Warren for $265 million in a new defamation suit.
  • The lawsuit centers around tweets the two candidates posted on Trayvon Martin’s birthday commemorating him.
  • Zimmerman alleges that Warren and Buttigieg defamed him in the tweets “to bolster their standings amongst African-American voters.”

Zimmerman Files Lawsuit

George Zimmerman is suing 2020 presidential candidates Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and South Bend Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg for $265 million, claiming they defamed him in order to “garner votes in the black community.”

Zimmerman, who shot and killed Trayvon Martin in 2012, was later acquitted on murder charges after claiming he acted in self-defense when he killed the unarmed black teen.

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday, alleges that the candidates “defamed Zimmerman for political gain in misguided and malicious attempts to bolster their standings amongst African-American voters, all at Zimmerman’s expense.”

The accusations stem from two tweets posted by the candidates on Feb. 5, which would have been Martin’s 25th birthday.

“How many 25th birthdays have been stolen from us by white supremacy, gun violence, prejudice, and fear? #BlackLivesMatter,” Buttigieg wrote in his post.

In her tweet, Warren expressed her condolences to Martin’s friends and family.

He should still be with us today,” she wrote. “We need to end gun violence and racism. And we need to build a world where all of our children—especially young Black boys—can grow up safe and free.”

Defamation Claims

The lawsuit claims that both Warren and Buttigieg falsely represented Trayvon’s death as being a result of “gun violence” which it claims “is generally understood in the public arena to refer to the reckless and indiscriminate use of illegally owned firearms that causes the death of a random innocent victim.”

Zimmerman, the suit argues, acted in self-defense and had a registered legal weapon.

It also says that the tweets defamed Zimmerman because they implied that he acted out of racism or white supremacy, claiming that Buttigieg’s use of the term “white supremacy” in his tweet, “defamed Zimmerman by claiming without any basis whatsoever that the Hispanic minority advocate and Obama supporter Zimmerman shot Trayvon Martin in cold blood due to his ‘white supremacy.’”

The same argument was given for Warren’s use of the word “racism” in her tweet.

The lawsuit then goes on to say that Warren and Buttigieg’s tweets implied that Zimmerman was “directly responsible for ‘white supremacy,’ ‘gun violence,’ ‘prejudice,’ ‘fear’ and ‘racism,’ among other defamatory innuendos and statements as explained above; and thus murdered Trayvon Martin as a result.”

The suit against the two candidates is not only defamation claim Zimmerman has filed in the last few months. In December, Zimmerman sued Martin’s family and others for $100 million, claiming that he was the victim of defamation and a conspiracy.

See what others are saying: (Newsweek) (Fox News) (The Miami Herald)

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