New York’s “Son of Sam” legislation underneath the German heiress’ fraud scheme

New York State is using its Son of Sam Act to reclaim the profits of a crime, a move it has not taken since at least 2001.

The 1977 law prohibits convicts from making money from their crimes with lucrative book and film businesses. State lawmakers created the law after it was reported that serial killer David Berkowitz, dubbed “Son Sam,” was offered money to tell all about his crimes.

Last year, the New York attorney general’s office relied on the “profits of a crime” provision of the 1977 Act. The office filed a lawsuit against Anna Sorokin, saying she should not be paid by the streaming platform Netflix Inc.

for an upcoming television series based on her life story “Inventing Anna”. At the same time, the State Office for Victim Services (OVS) exercised its right to confiscate the money. Established in 1966, the government agency provides compensation and other services to crime victims.

In 2019, Ms. Sorokin, age 29, was convicted in a Manhattan state criminal court for grandiose second degree theft, theft of services, and attempted grandiose first degree theft. Prosecutors in the Manhattan prosecutor said she presented herself as a wealthy German heiress with a foreign trust fund. She was, in fact, a Russian immigrant who, according to prosecutors, had defrauded banks, hotels, acquaintances and a private jet company to pay for an extravagant lifestyle with designer clothes and to fit into the social circles of Manhattan.

Ms. Sorokin, previously known as Anna Delvey, was sentenced to four to twelve years in prison and sentenced to nearly $ 200,000 restitution and a fine of $ 24,000. She is serving her sentence in Albion Correctional Center, but is expected to be paroled in February after a state probation agency granted her early release for a good disciplinary record. She could be deported to Germany by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Service as her attorney Todd Spodek said it was likely.

Ms. Sorokin was sentenced in May 2019.


Photo:

Timothy a. Clary / Agence France-Presse / Getty Images

The OVS frozen $ 140,000 Ms. Sorokin received from Netflix in 2019, clearing the way for two of its victims, both banks, to take legal action. City National Bank NA secured $ 100,000 of the frozen funds in September after filing a lawsuit in the Albany County Supreme Court.

Citibank NA has claimed the other $ 40,000 from the Netflix deal. The bank is owed $ 70,000 in damages, which will be paid by court order. Ms. Sorokin is still receiving money from a contact with Netflix which, according to Mr. Spodek, will make up Citibank’s remaining refund money.

Netflix declined to make a statement regarding its contract with Anna Sorokin.

Ms. Sorokin hired an additional attorney, Audrey Thomas, to help her file a request in October to release the funds earmarked for Citibank so she could pay her legal fees to combat her expected deportation. Citibank and OVS both denied the motion, which was denied in November by a New York State Supreme Court judge.

Citibank declined to comment on the status of the trust funds.

“This story never ends,” said Mr. Spodek. “I’m one of the few people who actually have her back and try to help her close this chapter and move on.”

OVS said that prior to Ms. Sorokin, it frozen money on 25 cases where a convict benefited from a crime and reclaimed a total of $ 95,000 between 1977 and the 2001 amendment. However, a victim of a crime can also decide for himself or herself to carry out a lawful act without the involvement of OVS.

“If you’ve been a victim of crime and have gone through criminal justice, the thought of having to prosecute another case can be very daunting,” said Elizabeth Cronin, director of OVS. “Our job is to ensure that these funds remain available until they can make that choice.”

In 2001, the Son of Sam Act was amended to allow the state to raise funds equal to or greater than $ 10,000 that a person convicted of a serious crime has – whether or not the money is a profit Was a crime.

With the amended provision, OVS has submitted 543 rulings over the past 20 years. The largest sum raised in a single fiscal year was approximately $ 10.4 million in 2015-16, according to OVS. More than $ 8 million came from a settlement won by a state inmate who died in prison.

Arthur Eisenberg, executive counsel of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said in the 1990s that he filed an amicus letter on behalf of the NYCLU and the American Civil Liberties Union to support a lawsuit against the constitutionality of the Son of Sam Act . The lawsuit led to several later amendments, including the 2001 provision to reach all funds of a convicted person.

“We have argued that if we want to compensate crime victims, we should make all of their property available,” he said. “By only focusing on assets acquired through expressive activities like writing a book or making a movie, the law is against the first amendment.”

Write to Emma Tucker at [email protected]

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