'I More so Consider Myself a Con Artist Than Anything'
New York magazine|February 14-27, 2022
What Danielle Miller learned at Horace Mann and Rikers.
By Gabrielle Bluestone. Photographs by Ashley Pena

DANIELLE MILLER walked into Rikers Island at 3 a.m. in the dead of winter, shivering in a flimsy Missoni cover-up, Hervé Léger bathing suit, and Valentino Rockstud heels, carrying a Prada purse—the outfit she’d been wearing when she was arrested on a warrant related to a credit-card scam. She fell asleep under a pile of coats and woke up surrounded by a dozen other detainees in the same filthy holding cell, waiting for what would happen next. The daughter of wealthy Manhattan parents and a graduate of the prestigious Horace Mann School, she was ill prepared for a place like Rikers, but she did have one advantage: She knew how to make friends.

She picked up a few there who showed her the ropes. There was a small firecracker of a girl named Julie who was quick to start fights and a gorgeous woman with hair down to her butt named Krystal who took to Miller right away. “They were like, ‘Don’t worry. We got you,’” Miller says. While they waited for their dorm assignments, one of the women braided her hair into cornrows, because she felt like she needed to look “gangsta” to fit in, plus “your hair gets really fucked up in jail and they have terrible soap.”

Krystal and Miller were paired together and placed in Three East B. The trouble started almost immediately. “The second I get into the dorm, these girls are like, ‘Ooh, sexy girl.’ They tried to touch me and shit, and Krystal was like, ‘Get the fuck away from her.’ ” As the tensions mounted, Krystal threw off her shower shoes—“It means you’re going to fight”—and the commotion drew the attention of the “boom squad,” a team of correction officers who break up fights. They dragged Krystal away in handcuffs, and Miller found herself alone again.

Then Miller heard someone asking her “in this crazy accent” who had braided her hair. It was Anna Delvey, the notorious Soho grifter. “Come here, I have a dummy bed next to me. It’s for you,” she told Miller. Delvey was also a frequent target of the boom squad, Miller says, which demanded she change out of her pajamas and into her uniform. “They’d be like, ‘Untie your pants.’ And she’d be like, ‘You untie my pants.’ Because you could roll up your pants and make them fashionable. The COs really didn’t fuck with Anna, because she was so annoying to them.” Delvey had figured out how to survive Rikers, and she started giving Miller lessons, advising her on the safest place to make her bed (along the back wall, never exposed in the middle of the room) and teaching her how to trade potato chips for the chance to cut in line for the phones. (Delvey did not respond to requests for comment.)

Miller was eventually placed in a different area, where she met another scammer, Ciera Blas, who was locked up for violating parole after she was convicted of identity theft. Blas had been arrested at Bergdorf Goodman in 2015 and was accused of running a ring that skimmed people’s credit cards to fuel a $22,000 shopping binge. On her Instagram account, @It_Girlsz_Closet_, she allegedly took requests for luxury items to lift and resell. The account looked just like any other influencer’s page—except that the designer goods Blas flaunted had been purchased illegally.

Miller, who grew up just a few blocks away from Bergdorf, was in some ways the type of woman Blas had been pretending to be for years. “She was so confident in her fake façade, but it was really interesting because she was trying so hard to have all the things that I’ve always had,” says Miller, who respected Blas’s zero-fucks-given attitude, which stood out even at Rikers.

Miller and Blas didn’t interact much, but their meeting set off a chain of events that would draw them both deeper into the criminal world than either had gone before. By the time their friendship fell apart, stolen credit cards would be the least of their troubles. “I was interested to know why this mean girl wanted to be friends with me,” Miller says now. “And in the end I think it was because she wanted to use me for whatever crimes we were accused of.”

MILLER GOT OUT of Rikers a few months before Blas, released on a warm summer day in 2019 with $30 in cash and a single-ride MetroCard. Less than 24 hours later, she’d made it to an old friend’s place in Soho and was diving back into the city’s club scene at Public, the Electric Room, and Sapphire, though it was an adjustment: “In jail, where there’s crowds, there’s fights.” The Soho friend allowed her to crash in his triplex apartment, but her parents had already cut her off, and many of her old friends distanced themselves from her, leaving her to depend on people she’d met at Rikers.

In early 2020, Miller was at a buzzy Upper East Side restaurant when she saw Blas. It was there, Miller says, that Blas first offered her a job. “Oh, you can do something that’s super-easy,” Blas told her, according to Miller. “It’s really not legal. It’s a little bit illegal.” The offer was to be a “trapper”—someone who could credibly take on the persona of one of their identity-theft victims—but Miller didn’t care for that term. (Through her lawyer, Blas denies all of this.) “Honestly, I more so consider myself a con artist than anything,” she says. “You know how they have that saying that you can sell ice to an Eskimo? If there’s something that I want, I’m getting it.”

When the pandemic hit, Miller fled to Miami, holing up in an ocean-view two-bedroom hotel apartment. Blas soon followed. They secured a baby-blue Porsche Boxster and motored aimlessly around Miami blasting Noah Cyrus songs. “It was covid, and everything was closed,” Miller says. “We were just home on Instagram the whole day.”

In heavily filtered posts, Miller detailed spending sprees with Blas at Balmain and Gucci, joyriding in Rolls-Royces, and swilling bottles of Dom Pérignon. “She and I actually became friends,” says Miller. “And she doesn’t have many friends. She confided a lot in me, which she told me really surprised her about herself. But it didn’t really surprise me, because, as we both know, I’m really charismatic and people like to tell me stuff.”

Miller’s friends from before Rikers noticed the difference right away. “I mean, more power to her if she’s going home every day with 97 Fendi bags,” one former classmate says. “So when she got arrested, we were like, ‘Oh, okay.’ ” A former friend remembers one post from this period. “When she got out of jail, she released this Instagram where she was, like, tooting what looked like yay in a convertible in broad daylight, playing Young Dolph. It was crazy.” (Miller denies posting herself doing drugs on social media or listening to Young Dolph.)

When Florida threw itself open later that spring, Miller and Blas were ready. Miller is accused of walking into an AT&T store in May 2020 armed with the identity of a Los Angeles woman whose filing cabinet had been stolen by burglars and using the information to take over the woman’s account. Then she and Blas rented a Jaguar and rolled up to a Chase drive-through in Sarasota, where Miller allegedly pulled out a fake passport card with her own photo under the L.A. woman’s name and tried to withdraw $8,000 from the woman’s account. The hijacked phone account passed a verification attempt made by Chase, but the bank was still suspicious enough to call a backup number. The next number the bank called was 911. When the cops arrested Miller and Blas, they reported recovering three Illinois driver’s licenses under different names with Miller’s photo, along with credit cards to match; six separate cell phones; and $25,000 in cash. They were arraigned, and both pleaded not guilty.

For the second time in less than a year, Miller found herself behind bars.

TO UNDERSTAND HOW Danielle Miller ended up where she did, she says, you’d have to know why she has spent the past 20 years trying, with increasing desperation, to be anyone but herself. She grew up a block from Central Park, in an apartment building neighboring the New York Athletic Club and the Ritz-Carlton. Her father, Michael Miller, an estate attorney, is the former president of the New York State Bar Association. Her mother had been a Rockette for 20 years before retiring to raise Danielle and her younger brother. The Millers sent Danielle to Michael’s alma mater, Horace Mann, which is where I first met her—she was a year behind me.

Back then, in the early aughts, the hypersexuality of rich and famous teenagers, like Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears, who were just a few years older than we were, was something to emulate. Sex tapes had made global superstars of Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton, whose younger brother Barron was at one point a good friend of Miller’s. Up and down the Upper East Side, wealthy teens flashed their thongs in Juicy sweat suits and low-rise Hudson jeans. Girls lined up for Brazilian waxes at J Sisters after it was prominently featured in the Gossip Girl books.

In 2004, when Miller was in eighth grade, a boy she had a crush on dared her in an aim message to prove she wasn’t a “prude.” She grabbed the new Sony VAIO laptop her father had given her for Christmas and propped it on the ledge of her shower stall. She disrobed, picked up the handle of a Swiffer mop, and pressed record. She made three sexual videos in all and emailed them to the boy.

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