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The lawyer for fake heiress Anna Delvey argued that her scam wasn't good enough to be considered a crime

INSIDER logoINSIDER 4/10/2019 Jacob Shamsian

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© Jacob Shamsian/INSIDER

Todd Spodek, the attorney representing Anna Delvey in her criminal case in New York, wants to convince jurors that his client's attempts to cheat financial firms like Fortress Investment Group were so incompetent that they don't qualify as crimes.

Those banks "believed she was a German heiress and they believed they would get a 15% interest loan," Spodek told INSIDER. "They just closed their eyes and went through the process."

On Monday, Spodek cross-examined Dennis Onabajo, one of the key witnesses in the case. In 2017, Onabajo worked for Fortress, a private equity firm that Delvey tried to use to obtain a $22 million loan to fund the Anna Delvey Foundation, a planned mixed-use art gallery and restaurant space in Gramercy, Manhattan.

Delvey pretended to be a German heiress with a $60 million fortune, and prosecutors say her false identity belonged to a larger scheme to live a life "fit for a Kardashian" while scamming financial institutions, hotels, and socialites. She's charged with ten counts for theft, grand larceny, and attempts to commit theft or grand larceny. One of those counts, for attempted grand larceny, stems from Delvey's efforts to secure a loan worth more than $1 million from Fortress.

Delvey's lawyer is arguing that Delvey never actually came close to stealing from Fortress 

Onabajo was a due diligence officer at Fortress, a role that involved investigating and verifying the financial health of potential clients. He was assigned to ensure Delvey's books added up so that Fortress could decide whether to approve a $22 million loan for Delvey's foundation.

Spodek portrayed Onabajo, and by extension Fortress, as less interested in doing his job properly and more interested in getting a slice of Delvey's non-existent fortune.

a man sitting in a room © Jacob Shamsian/INSIDER

Onabajo testified that numerous red flags in his due diligence process would have stopped Delvey from even being considered for a loan. Onabajo testified that he couldn't get satisfactory details of Delvey's personal information, contact information for family members or financiers, or bank statements, and that he couldn't determine whether she had "one dollar to her name."

"He attempted to do due diligence, but none was actually done," Spodek said. "Because if it was actually done, they would uncover problems immediately and not do business with them anymore."

Read more:  Prosecutors say alleged socialite scammer Anna Delvey pretended to be an influencer and went on a lavish Morocco trip 'fit for a Kardashian'

Onabajo's competence is important, Spodek said, because "proximity matters" in determining whether Delvey committed the crime of attempted grand larceny.

If Delvey never came close to securing the loan, Spodek said, then any dispute between her and Fortress would be a civil matter rather than a criminal one. It's due diligence officers like Onabajo who determine that proximity, Spodek said. 

"It is my position that since she never came close, she cannot be found guilty," Spodek told INSIDER.

Spodek's client was not close to obtaining a loan from City National Bank or Citibank either, he said.

Delvey's fate hinges on whether the jury buys Spodek's defense. Prosecutors say she allegedly scammed banks, hotels, and individuals out of $275,000 and attempted to steal millions more. If convicted on all counts, she could go to prison for up to 15 years. And regardless of the verdict, ICE plans to deport her because she's a German citizen who overstayed her visa.

The case drew nationwide media attention long before the trial began in March. Netflix snapped up the rights to a New York magazine profile, which the streaming services plans to produce with Shonda Rhimes. Lena Dunham is planning to adapt Delvey's story for HBO, based on an account from former Vanity Fair photo editor Rachel Williams, who said she was tricked into paying for Delvey's trip to Morocco.

Related video: How Anna Delvey Scammed NYC's Richest Socialites (Vanity Fair)


'Desire to send flirty text messages'

Spodek's cross-examination of Onabajo was not the first time the banker came up in the trial. In March, Spodek upbraided Onabajo and other financial institutions during the trial's opening statements, when he pointed out that the banker appeared to be more invested in pursuing Delvey romantically than performing due diligence.

He cited flirty texts exchanged between the pair, in which the banker allegedly said he was "forcing myself not to kiss you because you look insanely beautiful."

"The messages are interesting to say the least," Spodek said in his opening statement. "'Let me come up to your room and say goodbye,'" Spodek said, again quoting from one of Onabajo's text messages. "The evidence will show that Anna did not invite him to her room for a 'proper goodbye,' and this was not part of the due diligence process." 

Read more:  Here's every witness who could testify against 'fake heiress' Anna Delvey at her criminal trial

Spodek attempted to bring the texts up again during Onabajo's cross-examination on Monday, but judge Diane Kiesel blocked him from citing them directly. Assistant District Attorney Catherine McCall indignantly and frequently objected when Spodek referred to Onabajo's "desire to send flirty text messages."

Kiesel blocked Spodek from asking about the texts earlier in the trial, when he cross-examined Spencer Garfield, Onabajo's boss at Fortress, according to the New York Post. Onabajo sent Delvey 158 texts in total.

Onabajo said in court that the texts were "a mistake" and declined INSIDER's requests for comment.

The 'doors are open' for millionaires

Spodek expanded on his argument that Delvey wasn't a criminal scammer in an interview with INSIDER.

For one, she had no exit strategy. Delvey was living the high life, bouncing between Manhattan hotels and buying clothes from top designers in an attempt to fake her position in the city's socialite community. She wasn't, however, trying to take the money and flee the country. The scheme wasn't as harmful as prosecutors say, Spodek said.

"This was not a woman who was using sex. This is not a woman who was actively working against the general moral fabric. She wasn't hurting anyone," Spodek said. "The money she asked for was going to the business. It would be a much different case if she was going to get the money, get on a plane, and run."

The ultimate goal, Spodek argued, was to get the Anna Delvey Foundation off the ground and make enough money to pay everyone back.

"I believe wholeheartedly that her intent was pure, to pay every single person back," Spodek said. "Did she take advantage of people who wanted to believe she's a German heiress? She took advantage of the opportunity that presented itself."

Read more:  Alleged 'socialite scammer' Anna Delvey refused to show up to court on Friday because she didn't like her outfit

While the Anna Delvey Foundation may not have had an entirely sound business plan, Spodek said it was smart enough to convince bankers, socialites, and other potential investors in New York to listen. If its creator came from a different background, maybe it would have worked out.

"You're 25 and trying to create this empire with all these loans and complex things. She got it together," he said. "If somehow this business plan got a consultant at McKinsey [who] worked with her, and really helped her, and she was in grad school and went to f---ing Harvard Business School, and had all the right players, could we have it? But she didn't have those opportunities."

The problem with Delvey isn't her ideas, Spodek insisted. It's that everyone - the reams of bankers and individuals who agreed to testify against her - are all upset that she didn't turn out to be the wealthy person they believed she was, and that the only way to rise is inherited wealth.

"When you have $60 million - or when you give the impression that you have $60 million - all the doors are open," Spodek said.

"I'm not saying it was appropriate to pretend to be a German heiress or falsify documents," he continued. "But she would never get the opportunity to even talk to these people unless they believed she was a German heiress. So shame on them."



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