'Generation Hustle': A Guide to Frauds by Anna Delvey, Teejayx6 and More
By Stacy Lambe
Con artists, grifters, hustlers, imposters and scammers are the focus of Generation Hustle, which recounts some of the most wildly inventive scams of the past decade. ET spoke to the creator and executive producer of the HBO Max project, Yon Motskin, as well as director Martha Shane about what you need to know about the frauds featured in the 10-part true-crime docuseries and why it is OK to enjoy these unbelievably true stories.
“We’re living in the age of the grift,” Motskin says of building a series around the ideas of “invention and reinvention.”
“It’s about money on the surface, but in most cases, I think money is just the starting point and it becomes about something bigger and deeper and more complicated, whether it’s identity or class or fame or status,” he continues. “Just being somebody that you’re not, I think has always captured my imagination and it’s captured a lot of people’s imaginations.”
Each of the standalone episodes offer a fresh and concise take on the various crimes or acts of deception committed by Anna Sorokin (aka the Fake German Heiress known as Anna Delvey), the Hollywood Con Queen and scam-rap artist Teejayx6. The series also dives into the fascinating rise and fall of WeWork, an attempt to create the “Silicon Valley of the East” and a frat boy’s failed Ponzi scheme.
“The series really looks at how changes in our contemporary world, like the rise of social media for example, have changed what it means to be a con artist or a fraudster today,” adds Shane, who helmed two episodes, including one about Sorokin. “It’s made it both easier in some ways and more difficult in some ways to get away with these kinds of things.”
And when it comes to Sorokin’s story, she saw it as “being all about Instagram, really.”
While each episode recounts an unexpected tale of real-life criminals, who face very real consequences, Motskin didn’t “want to glorify” their illegal acts, “but at the same time, there’s nothing wrong with watching people do interesting things and get away with it.”
He adds, “It’s fun to watch them and go along for the ride. We wanted to do something that was light, that pop and was fun to watch, and was also twisty and pulpy while still sort of scratching at deeper things when we could.”
Hollywood Con Queen (Episode 1)
A man posing as Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy, former Sony Pictures chair Amy Pascal, Rupert Murdoch’s ex-wife, Wendi Deng, among others, became known as the “Hollywood Con Queen” after it was discovered he was conning various Hollywood hopefuls and up-and-comers out of thousands of dollars. He would convince these gig workers to self-finance trips to Southeast Asia where they believed there was a lucrative project that would take them to the next level. Instead, they encountered fees after fees that would never get reimbursed. Hargobind Tahilramani, who was arrested in November 2020 for allegedly impersonating the female executives and leading the scam, faces eight federal charges including wire fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud and aggravated identity theft.
Ian Bick (Episode 2)
At 20 years old, Ian Bick -- a nerdy teen-turned-EDM entrepreneur -- was accused by the federal government of running a $500,000 Ponzi scheme out of his home while he packed in crowds at the Danbury, Connecticut, club Tuxedo Junction, for regular raves. As his life as a budding mogul grew, so did his taste for a VIP lifestyle that reportedly included first-class trips, high-end shopping, and brand-new jet skis. To finance this, Bick, who was ultimately convicted on six counts of wire fraud and one count of money laundering, allegedly started soliciting investors for an eBay business and conned them out of $450,000 plus another $100,000 from various friends and family.
Jeremy Wilson (Episode 3)
The charming and handsome Jeremy Wilson assumed and lived many identities before he was eventually outsmarted by a New York City cop. He was a war hero and decorated Special Forces captain, a Hollywood journalist, the love child of an infamous bomber, an MIT graduate and an IRA operative as he moved back and forth across the country, tricking people all along the way. His schemes would even drawn comparisons to notorious con artist Frank Abagnale Jr., whose life was chronicled in Catch Me If You Can. But things eventually came to an end when he got caught and was ultimately given an 81-month federal sentence for frauds he perpetrated in 2009.
Anna Sorokin (Episode 4)
Under the identity of Anna Delvey, a German heiress hoping to launch a SoHo House-type lavish art club in various hot spots around the country, Sorokin conned her newfound friends out of thousands of dollars while always promising to pay them back. One such friend was Rachel Williams, a young employee at Vanity Fair, who was stuck with a $60,000 bill for a glamorous trip to Marrakesh, Morocco. When Sorokin went on the lam, Williams and others start going after her and eventually got the police involved. In 2019, Sorokin was convicted on multiple charges, including second-degree grand larceny and theft of services.
WeWork (Episode 5)
Valued at $47 billion, WeWork became one the last of Silicon Valley’s so-called “unicorns” before everything started falling apart. Co-founded by Adam Neumann, WeWork is a flexible shared workspace company that promised to reshape the business environment for a new generation. But as the company quickly grew, thanks to Neumann’s charisma and unwavering belief that he was changing the world, so did its many problems and financial issues. Soon after, the company lost key investors, failed to go public and lost the faith of its dedicated employees and followers who believed Neumann was leading them to the promised land.
William Baekeland (Episode 6)
The young and aristocratic William Baekeland allegedly charmed his way into an exclusive group of wealthy world travelers only to disappear along with hundreds of thousands of their dollars. According to Rolling Stone, “it is estimated that he pocketed around $835,000 from roughly 20 people.” And over time, “the young man successfully carried out at least two trips, but there were nine more that they paid for either in part or in full but -- because of decisions made by either the travelers or Baekeland -- didn’t come to pass. They claim they’re owed money by Baekeland for these trips.”
Syed Arbab (Episode 7)
Shortly after pledging his college fraternity, Syed Arbab raised approximately $1 million from students, alumni and friends to start a hedge fund, making him an instant campus legend. During that time, he started spending the investments on his newfound lavish lifestyle, including trips to Las Vegas. But when the market crashed, his hedge fund imploded and the 23-year-old broke bad by trafficking cocaine and defrauding investors. Eventually the federal government caught on and he was sentenced to 60 months in prison after pleading guilty to one count of securities fraud for running a Ponzi scheme that resulted in hundreds of victims.
Anthony Gignac (Episode 8)
Posing as Prince Khalid, Anthony Gignac went from an orphan born in Colombia and raised by his adoptive parents in Michigan to a life of the rich and fabulous. Whether it was flying high with real-estate moguls or convincing banks to extend him lines of credit, Gignac perpetuated a 30-year masquerade. Before being arrested in 2017, he built a network of investors to finance his fake businesses with one, Saudi Aramco, being valued at $1.8 trillion, while he reportedly collected $8 million and used that money to maintain his flashy lifestyle as he pretended to be a member of one of the richest families in the world.
Kyle Sandler (Episode 9)
Promising to turn Opelika into the “Silicon Valley of the East,” the residents of the small Alabama town quickly became enchanted with self-proclaimed Google alum Kyle Sandler. To finance this transformation, he launched the Round House business incubator, which received “investments totaling about $1.9 million from more than 50 investors.” Instead of investing in the town, however, the Associated Press reports that Sandler was “diverting their money for his personal expenses such as child care, rent and cars.” But it all started to unravel when Round House fostered a local 14-year-old inventor's idea to create a vending machine with injury-specific products and a suspicious $30 million buyout soon followed.
Teejayx6 (Episode 10)
A self-proclaimed scammer, Teejayx6 has made a rap career off of teaching his listeners how to commit various cons built around the digital age. As his following grew and his music garnered attention, the Detroit-based performer behind the tracks “Dark Web” and “Black Lives Matter,” managed to scam the industry into a coveted record deal at one of America’s biggest labels.
Not to be confused with the HBO Max teen dramedy Generation, Generation Hustle is produced by Jigsaw Productions and CNN Original Studios, with episodes directed by Motskin (“Hollywood Con Queen,” “Cult of WeWork,” “Baekeland”), Shane (“Anna Delvey Takes Manhattan,” “The Alabama Exit”) as well as George Plamondon (“The Party’s Over,” “Frat Boy Ponzi”), Jeremiah Crowell (“The 23 Lives of Jeremy Wilson,” “Prince of Fraud”) and Yemisi Brookes (“A Scam With a Beat”).
All 10 episodes ofGeneration Hustle are available to stream Thursday, April 22 on HBO Max.