- Anna Sorokin, the woman who pretended to be a Germain heiress to swindle banks, restaurants, hotels, and others out of thousands, agreed to a deal with Netflix to make a series about her crimes.
- The deal would give her $100,000 for her story, as well as a $15,000-per-episode consulting fee and $7,500 in royalties per episode.
- New York state is now working to stop Netflix from paying her, pointing to the “Son of Sam” law which was created to prevent criminals from profiting off their crimes.
Who is Anna Sorokin?
The state of New York is working to stop Netflix from paying fake heiress Anna Sorokin more than $100,000 to use her story for an upcoming series about her notorious scam.
Sorokin, who was known in social circles as “Anna Delvey,” moved to New York City in 2013, claiming to be a German heiress with a $60 million trust fund. She lived in luxurious hotels for months at a time, ate at swanky restaurants, attended exclusive parties, and wore designer clothes.
But Sorokin, who was actually born to a middle-class family in Russia, frauded her way through life. According to prosecutors, she forged financial statements, made up accountants, and lied about wire transfers to get out of paying money that she owed to businesses, friends, and other socialites.
The fake heiress, dubbed by the media as the “SoHo Scammer,” was arrested in 2017 and sentenced in May 2018 to four to 12 years in prison for multiple counts of theft and grand larceny.
According to court documents, she was also ordered to pay $198,956.19 in restitution to the victims of her scam. Victims included hotels like The Beekman and the W New York, a private jet and helicopter service called Blade, and even City National Bank, who she managed to dupe into giving her a $100,000 loan to launch a private art club in Manhattan.
Sorokin’s story picked up widespread attention in the summer of 2018 when Vanity Fair and The Cut published stories about her. HBO and Netflix later began working on projects about her as well, with Lena Dunham behind the HBO project and Shonda Rhimes behind the Netflix series.
According to a new report by the New York Post, Netflix acquired the rights to Sorokin’s life story in June of 2018, months after her arrest, but before her trial began. The New York Times also reported that this was part of a larger deal to buy the rights to information detailed in an article published by New York Magazine’s Jessica Pressler in May 2018.
Netflix’s contract with Sorokin allegedly gives her $100,000 for her story, along with a $15,000 per episode consultant fee, and $7,500 in royalties per episode, the Post reported citing court documents.
New York State Gets Involved
The Post also reported that the first payout was $30,000 that went directly to Sorokin’s lawyer. Now New York State is trying to stop Sorokin from getting any money from Netflix for herself.
In late May, the office of the New York State attorney general filed a request to block a $70,000 payment from Netflix that Sorokin was set to receive in June. The state cited the “Son of Sam” law, which is designed to stop criminals from profiting off publicity around their crimes. That legislation passed in 1977, after many speculated that a notorious serial killer might sell his story to a writer or filmmaker.
Along with blocking the $70,000 payment, Attorney General Letitia James is also working to stop Sorokin from earning the consultant and royalty fees. On top of that, a judge in Albany temporarily ordered Netflix to not pay Sorokin until the matter is settled through litigation, except for the $30,000 for her attorney’s unpaid legal fees, according to court records obtained by the Times.
“The monies sought to be preserved herein, constitute ‘profits from a crime,'” Assistant Attorney General Adele Durand wrote in recently-filed court papers cited by the Post.
Instead, Durand said the proceeds of Sorokin’s Netflix deal should be donated to the New York State Office of Victim Services, for redistribution to the people impacted by her crimes.
Todd Spodek, Sorokin’s lawyer told the Times: “It has always been Ms. Sorokin’s intention to pay back her victims.”
“I anticipate resolving the issue without further litigation,” he added.
This is somewhat similar to what Sorokin said to the Times in a jailhouse interview from May. According to the newspaper, she said she always had the intention to pay the money back and had been trying to raise millions for a social club she thought would be a lucrative investment.
However, in that same interview, she admitted that she was not actually sorry for duping her victims.“I’d be lying to you and to everyone else and to myself if I said I was sorry for anything,” she said. “I regret the way I went about certain things.”
The Times also reported: “Ms. Sorokin was asked if, given the chance, she would do the same things again. Ms. Sorokin shrugged. ‘Yes, probably so,’ she said, laughing.”
As of now, the Netflix series is still in development. As far as the HBO production, that deal was struck with one Sorokin’s victims, former Vanity Fair photo editor Rachel Williams, who Sorokin stuck with a 62,000 bill for a trip to Morocco. Williams also published a book about her experience with Sorokin that was released on Tuesday.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The New York Post) (Business Insider)
DOJ Asks Supreme Court to Rule Against Transgender Workplace Discrimination Protection
- The Department of Justice filed a brief on Friday asking the Supreme Court to rule that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not protect workplace discrimination on the basis of being transgender.
- The DOJ filed the brief in response to a case against Harris Funeral Homes brought by Aimee Stephens, a transgender funeral director who says she was fired after coming out to her boss and saying she would wear a female uniform.
- Harris Funeral Homes and the DOJ argue Title VII protects against discrimination based on biological sex only, while the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says LGBTQ+ workers should be protected under sex-based discrimination.
DOJ Submits Brief Against Trans Protection
On Friday, the U.S. Department of Justice submitted a brief asking the Supreme Court to rule that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not protect transgender individuals in the workplace.
The brief comes in response to an upcoming case the Supreme Court will hear in October concerning a transgender funeral director who was fired after coming out to her boss in 2013.
Title VII protects workers from employment discrimination on the basis of sex, race, color, religion, and national origin.
While some argue sexual orientation and gender identity are protected under the term “sex,” the DOJ argued “sex” only refers to a person’s biological sex. It said when the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed, the interpretation rested on the basis of biological sex.
In the brief, the DOJ stated “[Title VII] simply does not speak to discrimination because of an individual’s gender identity or a disconnect between an individual’s gender identity and the individual’s sex.”
Instead, it argued Title VII prohibits discrimination of people in similar positions and of the opposite biological sex.
The DOJ asserted any changes in the law should be made through Congress, not through the judicial system. Currently, no federal laws prohibit workplace discrimination on the basis of being transgender; however, in 2017, former Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded an Obama-era policy that included LGBTQ+ identities in the “sex” category.
“While the issue that the Supreme Court took up is a narrow one, whether civil rights protections against ‘sex’ discrimination passed in 1964 should include ‘gender identity’ and transgender rights, it will have vast implications for religious groups,” said Craig Parshall, General Counsel for National Religious Broadcasters. “There is an increasing movement to force faith-based employers to bend to the newly-minted doctrine that a person’s subjective ideas of how they think of their own gender should always prevail, regardless of the religious conscience of employers, businesses, and ministries.”
Meanwhile, the Human Rights Campaign and the American Civil Liberties Union have condemned the action.
“The Trump-Pence administration’s filing today is both legally and morally unjustifiable,” said HRC Legal Director Sarah Warbelow in a Friday statement. “Their argument is un-American, anti-business, and flies in the face of decades of federal case law, including established Supreme Court precedent. There can be no justification for such a narrow interpretation of the term ‘sex.’ Our community will not be silent, and we will not be erased.”
R.G. and G.R. Harris Funeral Homes V. EEOC & Aimee Stephens
Aimee Stephens worked for R.G and G.R. Harris Funeral Homes in Michigan as a funeral director from 2007 to 2013, presenting as a man for the six years of her employment.
In 2013, she decided to come out to her boss, Thomas Rost, in a letter where she stated she would begin wearing a woman’s uniform and start her transitioning process.
She said the decision came after many years of struggling to accept her identity. At one point in her life, she said she considered killing herself.
Though she said she hoped her job performance over the years would help ease her transition, she was fired soon after.
She then filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which in turn, sued the funeral home for discrimination, sending the case to district court.
In court, the funeral home argued Stephens needed to wear a man’s uniform, saying that “[m]aintaining a professional dress code that is not distracting to grieving families is an essential industry requirement that furthers their healing process.”
Rost, who is a devout Christian, also said he does not believe people can change their gender and defended his firing of Stephens under the protection of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
The district ruled in favor of the funeral home on both points, concluding Title VII does not extend to discrimination on the basis of being transgender.
In 2018, Stephens and the EEOC appealed the case in circuit court, where it overturned the district decision and ruled in their favor.
“Discrimination against employees, either because of their failure to conform to sex stereotypes or their transgender and transitioning status, is illegal under Title VII,” the decision states. “The unrefuted facts show that the Funeral Home fired Stephens because she refused to abide by her employer’s stereotypical conception of her sex.”
The circuit also struck down the district’s religious freedom ruling.
This time, the funeral home sought to overturn the decision, arguing that the circuit court had over-reached its authority, and particularly, that it had expanded the definition of what it means to be a man or woman. It asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case. In April, the Supreme Court agreed to hold a hearing.
“Harris Homes ‘administers its dress code based on [its] employees’ biological sex, not based on their subjective gender identity,’ the DOJ’s Friday brief states. “Rost has stated that he ‘believe[s] that the Bible teaches that a person’s sex is an immutable God-given gift,’ and he would ‘violat[e] God’s commands’ by ‘permit[ting] one of [Harris Homes’] funeral directors to deny their sex while acting as a representative of [the] organization’ or by permitting a funeral director of either sex to ‘wear the uniform for’ funeral directors of the opposite sex ‘at work.’”
The Supreme Court will also hear two LGBTQ+ other cases involving “sex” discrimination in relation to Title VII and sexual orientation.
China Ramps Up Propaganda Against Hong Kong Protests
- China is ramping up its propaganda campaign against the Hong Kong protests.
- These efforts include buying anti-protest ads on Twitter and Facebook, both of which are banned in China, as part of an effort to disperse misinformation to the international community.
- China has also moved thousands of troops to their border with Hong Kong to conduct public military exercises that many believe are meant to intimidate protestors in Hong Kong.
- On Sunday, hundreds of thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators took to the streets of Hong Kong in one of the biggest peaceful marches seen in the city since the protests first began 11 weeks ago.
Mainland China has ratcheted up its efforts against the protestors in Hong Kong following several violent instances during protests at Hong Kong’s airport last week.
Last Monday, thousands of protestors flooded the Hong Kong airport, causing officials to cancel all flights. Limited flights resumed Tuesday and protestors began trying to block passengers from boarding planes.
The situation escalated after a group of demonstrators essentially held two men from mainland China hostage. The protestors reportedly believed one of the men was an undercover police officer, even though they had no confirmation of his identity or employment.
The other man who was seized by protestors has been confirmed as a journalist for the Chinese newspaper the Global Times. It was also reported that at one point, a group of demonstrators overwhelmed a police officer and beat him with his own baton.
These instances prompted police to violently crackdown on the protestors Tuesday night, using pepper spray and batons to disperse the demonstrators.
Flights resumed normally on Wednesday after airport authorities filed a court order to limit the protests.
Amid the protests at the airport, mainland China has significantly stepped up its misinformation and anti-protest propaganda campaign.
While China’s state media has always portrayed the Hong Kong protests in a negative light, they have recently increased their efforts to villainize the protestors.
In general, the Chinese media have portrayed the protestors as a small group of bad actors who engage in extremely violent demonstrations.
The official narrative in China is that the demonstrations have been planned and incited by foreign forces, including U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and the CIA, who the Chinese government claim pay the protestors to engage in activities that are not supported by residents of Hong Kong.
That narrative obviously contrasts greatly with the fact that the protests are part of popular demonstration movement that at times has prompted two million people— nearly one-third of Hong Kong’s population— to take to the streets.
The Chinese media has also said the protestors in Hong Kong are calling for independence from China, which threatens the mainland’s sovereignty. However, as many have noted, none of the protestors’ demands include independence from China.
The Chinese media has also manipulated pictures and videos of protestors to make them seem more violent. In one recent example, a video showed a protester with a toy Airsoft weapon used in a paintball-like game that’s popular in Hong Kong.
The state-run newspaper the China Daily circulated that video, claiming it was evidence that the protesters had taken up arms and saying the toy was a grenade launcher used by the U.S. Army.
Over the weekend, it was reported that China’s largest state-run news agency, Xinhua News, bought ads on Facebook and Twitter to smear the protestors. Both Facebook and Twitter are banned in China, so the ads seem to be an attempt to influence the outside world to China’s favor.
One of the ads run on Facebook indicates that the violence from the protests is hurting Hong Kong’s economy, and goes on to say, “Calls are mounting for immediate actions to restore order.”
Another ad on Twitter also pushed the idea that everyone in Hong Kong wants “order,” claiming, “All walks of life in Hong Kong called for a brake to be put on the blatant violence and for order to be restored.”
Twitter addressed the misinformation campaign in a Twitter Safety blog post on Monday.
In the post, Twitter said they found “a significant state-backed information operation focused on the situation in Hong Kong.”
According to the post, Twitter located 936 accounts “originating from within” China that were “deliberately and specifically attempting to sow political discord in Hong Kong, including undermining the legitimacy and political positions of the protest movement on the ground.”
The post went on to say that Twitter had suspended all of the accounts for violating their platform manipulation policies, but also noted that those accounts were only the most active parts of the misinformation campaign, which they said consisted of around 200,000 accounts.
Propaganda is only one of the methods China is using to put pressure on Hong Kong.
Beijing has recently moved thousands of paramilitary troops to mainland China’s border with Hong Kong.
Those forces have since been seen running very public military exercises over the last week or so, and many experts have said it is a reminder to Hong Kong that the mainland has not ruled out the use of force.
The combination of the violence at the airport and the rising threat from mainland China caused many protest leaders worried that the actions taken by a few demonstrators would deter others from continuing to protest.
The opposite appeared to be true on Sunday, when hundreds of thousands of protestors demonstrated in the rain for one of the biggest peaceful protests in weeks. Protest organizers estimated that around 1.7 million people came out, while the police claim the number is closer to 128,000.
Despite the fact that the authorities had not given the protestors permission for the march, it still remained peaceful.
Police presence was limited, and the officers who were present did not try to stop the protestors. The protestors themselves encouraged each other to avoid confrontations.
Sunday’s massive protest seemed to indicate that the people of Hong Kong are not backing down, even amid what many have described as unprecedented use of force by police and escalating threats from mainland China.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (Gizmodo)
Pipe Bomb Mailer Sentenced to 20 Years in Prison for Targeting Trump Critics
- A judge handed a 20-year prison sentence to a man who mailed pipe bombs to prominent critics of President Donald Trump.
- The list includes high-profile Democrats such as former President Barack Obama, Joe Biden, and Hillary Clinton, along with CNN, actor Robert DeNiro, and philanthropist George Soros.
- The bomber pleaded guilty to 65 felony counts, including a charge for weapons of mass destruction, but said he didn’t intend to hurt his targets and only wanted to scare them.
- The man claimed a history of mental illness stemming from childhood sexual assault, PTSD, and drugs partially caused his actions.
Bombs Mailed to Trump Critics
A New York judge has sentenced a man to 20 years in prison for mailing 16 pipe bombs to vocal critics of President Donald Trump in October 2018.
The list includes prominent Democrats such as former President Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, Cory Booker, and Kamala Harris. It also includes CNN, actor Robert DeNiro, and philanthropist George Soros.
Prosecutors had requested the man receive a life sentence, but the attempted bomber thanked Judge Jed S. Rakoff when he was handed the 20-year sentence instead.
The first bomb was discovered in George Soros’ mailbox on October 22. The last bomb was found on November 1 addressed to billionaire Tom Steyer.
The bombs contained a mix of gunpowder from fireworks, glass shards, and pool chemicals. Each of the bombs also had pictures of their intended target with a red X over their face.
Authorities arrested the bomber in Florida on October 26, and he was later charged with five federal crimes. The FBI labeled the case as domestic terrorism.
In March, he plead guilty to 65 felony counts, one of which included a charge for using weapons of mass destruction.
In court, the man said he hadn’t intended for any of the bombs to detonate, saying he only wanted to scare his targets.
“I sent all 16 devices with the intent to threaten or intimidate,” the man said. “I know these actions were wrong.”
Prosecutors admitted the bombs wouldn’t function as they had been designed, but they said the bombs still carried the capacity to cause “extensive harm.”
Why He Mailed the Bombs
The bomber said he chose his targets because of their criticism of President Trump, of whom he described himself as an avid fan.
The man said he also lashed out because his van — which was covered in Trump stickers — had been vandalized. He had been living out of that van for more than 10 years while working as a strip club DJ and a pizza delivery driver.
“In this darkness, [the attempted bomber] found light in Donald J. Trump,” his attorney argued in court. “He came to believe that he was being personally targeted for supporting Trump: [He] thought that anti-Trump forces were trying to hurt him and they were to blame when his van was vandalized.”
During the trial, the man referred to several incidents involving his mental health, including sexual assault by a teacher, steroid abuse, PTSD, and learning disabilities.
“Now that I am a sober man, I know I was a very sick man,” he said in court. “I should have listened to my mother, the love of my life. She told me to get help.”
“It is perhaps, then, not surprising that someone of [his] emotionally fragile nature not only became infatuated with a public figure, in this case, Donald Trump,” Judge Rakoff said in court, “but also came to view Mr. Trump’s political opponents as demons who were out to destroy not just Mr. Trump but [him], as well.”
Ultimately, the man said he took full responsibility for his actions.
Even before the bomber was arrested, Trump condemned the mailing of the bombs.
“I just want to tell you in these times, we have to unify,” Trump said. “We have to come together, and send one very clear, strong, unmistakable message that acts or threats of political violence of any kind have no place in the United States of America.”
Around the same time, the president faced backlash for tweeting that news media were covering only the “’Bomb’ stuff,” not politics.
Trump faced questions of whether or not he thought his rhetoric was partially to blame for in inspiring the attacks, to which he defended himself and said he had no plans to change his actions in the future.