A vegan business icon, an immortal (?) dog named Leon, cult-like abuse, mass amounts of unpaid wages and debts, and the hero of our story… a domino’s pizza with a side of wings. This is the story of Pure Food & Wine and its founder, Sarma Melngailis.
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Thanks for listening!
Melngailis, S (2018). NOTES FROM THE OTHER SIDE. https://www.sarmaraw.com/
Melngailis, S (2022). ABOUT BAD VEGAN: Part One. https://www.sarmaraw.com/
Michallon, C. (2021). A beloved celebrity vegan, a $2m fraud, and the Domino’s pizza that brought her down. Independent UK. https://www.independent.co.uk/
Rubenstein, H. (2004). Raw Ambition. New York Magazine. https://nymag.com/nymetro/
Salkin, A. (2016) How Sarma Melngailis, Queen of Vegan Cuisine, Became a Runaway Fugitive. Vanity Fair. https://www.vanityfair.com/
Smith, C (2022). Bad Vegan: Fame. Fraud. Fugitives. Netflix. https://www.netflix.com/
Vianna, C. (2019). Troubled Vegan ‘It Girl’ Sarma Melngailis Says She’d Revive Her Raw Food Restaurant. Eater. https://ny.eater.com/2019/1/
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Hi everyone, I’m Becca.
& I’m Sarah! And you’re listening to Unsavory.
B: Today we’re trying something new! If you’re a long-time listener, you’ll know that usually one of us does an intro to one aspect of the topic and the other does the main story. But today, instead of a separate intro - we’re actually just going to get straight into the story.
S: And today’s story has everything you didn’t know you needed in a story: a vegan business tycoon, an immortal? dog named Leon, cult-like abuse, mass amounts of unpaid wages and debts, and the hero of our story… a domino’s pizza with a side of wings. This is the story of Pure Food & Wine and it’s founder, Sarma Melngailis.
B: Another thing before we jump into the story - Listeners, if you haven’t already, please leave us a review wherever you listen. We love bringing you new Unsavory episodes and the best way you can support us is by leaving us a review…or even a rating - preferably 5-stars if you think we deserve it.
S: It’s so simple but those reviews are EVERYTHING to small podcasters, they are truly priceless and they make a huge difference! & if you’ve already left a review, tell your friends, call your mom, spread the word about Unsavory. Okay, are you ready Becca?
B: Oh I’m ready.
Shout out to my sources for today’s story, all listed in the shownotes but special shout out to an article in the Independent by Clemence Michallon, a Vanity Fair article by Allen Salkin, and Allen Salkin is heavily featured in the Netflix docuseries, Bad Vegan, which I also used for this episode - and the docuseries covers SO much more than I could include in this episode and I highly recommend checking it out. It’s directed by Chris Smith, the same guy who directed Tiger King - so you know it’s good.
Did you end up watching the doc, Becca?
B: Yes! Dan and I started it two days ago thinking we wouldn’t have time to finish it before we record this epi. But we crushed the first three episodes in one sitting. It’s really good.
The doc has tons of real footage and voice recordings and texts from main characters in this story that help you understand what Sarma was going through. The only downside is that the other main character, Anthony Strangis, declined all comments on the doc and also hasn’t spoken to journalists about what happened, so you don’t get his side of the story. But you get a sense of his terrible personality through clips.
B: Terrible, but also extremely convincing and loveable somehow. I feel like there are very few men who could get away with what he did. A master criminal.
Absolutely - Let’s start at the height of the story. Pure Food & Wine was a wildly successful raw, vegan restaurant in the heart of Manhattan. Eggs, dairy, sugar, grains, and any type of meat or fish were nowhere to be found, and all the ingredients were organically grown fruits, vegetables, nuts, and herbs. The kitchen had no ovens, stoves, or microwaves, as most of the food was prepared by chopping, whisking, infusing, blending, or dehydrating.
B: I’m no vegan, but the dishes looked incredible.
Yes, truly - we’ll share some pics of their dishes on our instagram, but the dishes were really complex and seemed so flavourful. For those that aren’t familiar with veganism, a vegan diet excludes all animal products. Many people choose to eat this way for ethical reasons (they don’t want to harm animals), environmental (plant-based diets can be more sustainable) or health reasons. I would say most people who are vegan follow a whole-food plant-based diet that consists of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds. But there is also a subset of vegans that follow a raw-food vegan diet, which is a vegan diet based on raw fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and herbs prepared at temperatures below 188F or 48C.
B: I went vegan for about a month in 2019 - mainly for ethical reasons. And it definitely changed the way I eat for the better - like I used to struggle to incorporate plant-based meals into my week, and now I have at least one plant-based meal a day. But straight up veganism isn’t something I could ever maintain.
And raw veganism is next level.
S: I tried it before too! I got really into the environmental and ethical implications of our diets, and I was doing a lot of research on the internet and I was vegan for about a year and a half. I kind of just started reintroducing some foods that I missed and realized that I enjoyed them a lot and wanted them in my diet - like cheese, hello, how did I ever go without cheese - I wouldn’t go fully vegan again, but I do actively include and enjoy plant-based meals on the regular!
Back to Pure Food & Wine. This restaurant was a hit - there was nothing else quite like it at the time. It had a gorgeous backyard garden and was staffed by all these really attractive and cool people, and it attracted the attention of all sorts of celebrities. Pure Wine & Food is actually where Alec Baldwin met his wife, Hilaria Baldwin, and other celebs like Owen Wilson, Tom Brady, Anne Hathaway, Stevie Wonder, and Alicia Silverstone were known to visit Pure Food & Wine.
To give you a sense of the menu at Pure Food & Wine, I’m going to read a quote from a review of the restaurant in New York Magazine by Hal Rubenstein.
“Enjoy Kenney’s smashed pineapple and diced cucumber gazpacho—a dense but refreshing soup with a heady blast of green onion and cilantro plus a faint sting of jalapeño just before it goes down—for its sheer immediacy. Appetizers go for similar crackle and zip. Wafer-thin slices of daikon radish encircle a combo of green papaya and coconut like a wrap, ready for dipping into a graceful chili-coconut sweet-sour sauce with a high note of basil. Nuts play a vital role in vegan cooking, and they’re used frequently here. Pignoli blended into chopped jícama simulates sushi rice wrapped around marinated shiitake mushrooms invigorated with pickled ginger. Cashews provide crunch and protein in spicy Thai lettuce wraps that are also filled with chopped Napa cabbage, ginger, and mango—all awaiting a vivid tamarind chili sauce. Mango and Thai basil salad with star anise, red chili, and Brazil nuts offers as much exotic sunniness as one bowl can contain.”
My mouth is watering - veggies have never sounded so delicious!
B: OK jicama is one of my favorite vegetables but I can never find it anywhere. It really goes to show that she’s using some pretty bougie/hard-to-come-by ingredients.
Pure Food & Wine was opened in 2004 by a woman named Sarma Melngailis and she is the protagonist of today’s story. Right off the top, she’s a total bombshell - absolute babe, we have to say it. She was born and raised in Newton, Massachusetts. Her dad was a physicist and her mother was a professional chef, so her interest in food began when she was young. She studied economics at the University of Pennsylvania, and then held a series of jobs at investment banks and firms, but Sarma knew that finance wasn’t her passion. She soon left her high-paying job to attend New York's French Culinary Institute. She graduated in 1999 and shortly after, interviewed to work with Chef Matthew Kenney on a cookbook. Kenney was a talented chef in NY who owned his own restaurant. She got the job and the two quickly became a couple. The two had a vision for a new kind of raw vegan restaurant and they got restauranteur, Jeffery Chodorow, to fund their vision. In 2004, Pure Food & Wine opened its doors for the first time.
Shortly after, in 2005, Sarma released her first book: Raw Food, Real World: 100 Recipes to Get the Glow, and this is where her personal brand really took off, and with it, Pure Food & Wine’s reputation exploded as well. Sarma became a sort of raw vegan icon, her business was thriving and attracting celebrity attention, she started to become more well known around New York for her signature blonde hair and one lucky duck tattoo. And yet, only a decade later, in 2015, the Pure Food & Wine empire would collapse. 98 employees walked off the job after missing months of pay and Melngailis would be on the run from the FBI for stealing millions of dollars from her investors. An absolutely epic downfall.
And it all started with Alec Baldwin - sort of. Alec Baldwin was at the restaurant a lot, and he became good friends with Sarma. Sarma was in a pretty rough place at this time, mentally, and this is when she actually adopted Leon, her beloved pitbull (who is truly, so cute). It was around this time that Alec met his future wife Hilaria at the restaurant shortly after. So Sarma is single and has a thriving business at this time, but isn’t exactly thriving in her personal life. I'm going to read a quote from the Vanity Fair article by Allen Salkin from an email that Sarma sent in 2007 that showcases her struggles - “These people would all probably choke on their flaxcrackers if they knew that not only am I walking around often feeling entirely spent, weary and even on the verge of a nervous breakdown, but that I’m also carrying a few hundred thousand dollars of personal debt . . . that I’m full of burning rage to build this empire . . . with a residual and occasionally reappearing destructive closet eating disorder.”
B: Yikes…that is clearly a cry for help, and based on the doc, it seems like no one really reached out. Her whole story makes you kinda rethink the status that comes with fame - it comes across as being quite isolating.
Around this time, Sarma notices this guy on Twitter, Shane Fox, who is tweeting with Alec Baldwin and he’s clever, he’s got good one-liners and sometimes Alec even responds back. So Sarma assumes that they are friends and she begins talking to this guy. They would play words with friends and text back and forth and basically start an online relationship through Twitter. The timeline is a bit shaky here, but it seems like Sarma and Shane Fox started talking in early 2011 and finally met in person by November of the same year, and when they did finally met - he was not exactly how he had appeared in pictures - he was heavier in person and people definitely commented that is was a unique physical match, but her dog Leon warmed up to him right away, so she took that as a good sign. (B: even the dog was fooled). He was also very confident and kind of mysterious - he would never disclose exactly what his job was, but said it was something to do with the CIA black ops division and was always very mysterious about it (red flag #1 of 100,000).
Sarma had a lot of really great friends and loyal employees at the restaurant that had worked for her for a long time and had a lot of respect for her, and they were definitely suspicious about this new guy. He just didn’t seem like her type… but he was confident, outgoing, and he had money (or so it seemed). He wore a rolex, drove a bentley, and one time he was with Sarma and he went into a building and came out with a manilla envelope filled with diamonds. Very sus. Sarma described one time where Shane told her to meet him at Tiffany’s and they had this private area to themselves and he had her try on all these $800,000 rings. They would go house shopping for these super expensive New York homes and Sarma trusted that he had money because she had no reason not to - he had clearly proven to the real estate agent that he had the money. So in these earlier stages of the relationship, I can totally see how Sarma would get swept up into the relationship and overlook some other red flags, especially since she was carrying a large amount of her own debt. The allure of marrying rich could be pretty strong.
Shane’s ~very important, fancy, mysterious job~ required him to go on all these last minute trips and he would go for a couple days at a time and not contact Sarma or tell her where he was. It was on one of these trips that he first requested cash from Sarma. Now, according to those that were close to Sarma, she was incredibly generous (as we’ll learn, to a fault). She even made friends with a gentleman named Anthony Joseph Caruana – aka Tony Pizza - a homeless man from Long Island and would store his belongings at her apartment in the winter and invite him to Thanksgiving gatherings with her friends. So being a generous, kind-hearted person - Sarma helped Shane out and sent him the money when he requested it.
Now prepare for things to get a little confusing, because one day Shane called the restaurant and the name that showed up on the caller ID was Anthony Strangis. The employees googled him, because they knew something was up with this guy, and saw that he had a mugshot from a 2005 arrest in Florida for impersonating a police officer - and that Shane Fox was actually Anthony Strangis. When this was brought to Sarma’s attention, she brushed it off and explained that he had multiple identities based on his mysterious job. But now it was known that Shane Fox’s real name was Anthony Strangis. I know this might be a bit confusing, but I’m going to switch and start calling him Anthony Strangis from now on because that’s his actual name.
B: I found this part of the story so strange - they never give you any more backstory on this charge or what happened. Did you uncover any more details in your research?
So who the heck is this guy? Anthony Strangis was raised in a ranch house in Brockton, Massachusetts by his mother, Patricia, and his father, John, a local police man and well-known gambler. Rumour has it, John used to bring Anthony with him while he gambled so he was exposed to gambling and violence at a very young age. Anthony was also previously married to a lovely women named Stacy Avery, with whom he had a son. Stacy alleges that after
she became pregnant, he pawned her jewelry, telling her he was due to inherit $5 million from an aunt. But the money never came and more items kept getting pawned. Stacy finally left Anthony when she had fallen three months behind on her mortgage and all her electronics and jewelry had been pawned. Strangis took off for good, leaving his wife and son behind. According to Anthony’s own mother, it’s possible that Sarma and Anthony first started talking on Twitter, he was living in a van with his father traveling together from casino town to casino town, gambling.
Friends at the restaurant were seriously concerned about Sarma at this point - she was growing more distant by the day, and so it was especially shocking when they suddenly got married in December 2012, only 1 year after meeting in person. At this point, Sarma was genuinely exhausted, didn’t have a business partner, and she had this enormous amount of debt from when she had bought out the restaurant from her ex-boyfriend (the one she started it with). Despite the fact that Pure Food & Wine was thriving at this time, the crushing amount of debt was looming over Sarma like a dark cloud, and Anthony was promising that he could pay off her debt and financially protect her. They actually went and talked to an account about what it would look like for Anthony to pay off her debt, and she asked the accountant if Anthony could legally just give her the money, and the accountant said that they should just get married so that it would be legal. So they did! Within 24h, they were married in a secretive and uneventful ceremony that Sarma barely told anyone about.
B: Urgh so sad.
Now things are about to get really weird - over the next couple years (timeline shaky), according to Sarma, Anthony slowly and masterfully manipulated her using a form of domestic violence called “coercive control”, leaving Sarma trapped in what was basically a cult with Anthony as the leader and Sarma as the sole follower. She became increasingly detached from reality based on the stories that Anthony was feeding her, including that they were true soul mates that had traveled through time to be together. Anthony was always talking about a mysterious group of judges that were to decide if Sarma had proven herself worthy to pass through into this new state of being where she would become accepted into the group and her and her dog Leon could live forever. It’s all very confusing, but basically everything that Sarma did for Anthony was part of this long-con to get her to “the next level” and become immortal and be the queen. It all sounds so insane to me, but Shane was also promising her a lot of money - saying that his funds were tied up and she just had to give him x amount and then it would all be paid back (and more). He told her that she would get 100k a month for life and encouraged her to keep going along with everything - basically dangling the carrot, one more day, one more task. & on the other hand, if she didn’t go along with everything he said, everything she wanted would be destroyed and everything she had done so far would be for nothing.
& this sounds completely wild, and it is. But it seems that, like with a lot of abuse, everything was really gradual. Anthony kept insisting that if she could just trust him, they would have a fantastical magical future together where money would never be an issue.
B: Ya, it seems that Sarma was in a very vulnerable position. She owed a ton of money to investors and no longer had her ex as her business partner. And based on that Vanity Fair quote you shared, it seems like she was also struggling with her mental health. Insert a convincing man who says he can fix everything and you have a recipe for disaster.
One other INSANE thing that Anthony did, was tell Sarma that his personal “tech expert”, Will Richards, who was this guy that kept all Anthony’s important, top-secret tech stuff safe, had detected that Sarma’s computer had been hacked. And so, to protect her information, she needed to email this guy all of her passwords and banking information. Spoiler alert: there is no WIll Richards, it was actually just Anthony Strangis being a massive, invasive creep and now he has access to her bank accounts, email, and cell-phone.
& while this was happening in the doc, I was like SCREAMING at the screen - don’t email anyone your bank account info and passwords! Just don’t do it! And you might be wondering why Sarma, this educated, successful business woman would fall for this stuff. And one thing that is missing from this podcast episode a nd that you can hear in the Bad Vegan docuseries, is the way that Anthony would talk to Sarma. There are tons of audio and video clips of him being very forceful and manipulative, but also always saying like “we’re so close, we’ve come so far - you’ve almost passed the final test and you’re going to give up now - I thought you were better than this.” Sarma journalled through all of this too and you can see her thought process and how she was actually questioning things but also going along with things and really hoping that they were true.
B: SUCH cult leader vibes…
Anothing “test” that Anthony was putting on Sarma was his weight gain - and just FYI there’s quite a bit of fat shaming in some of the articles I read and even in the documentary - but it’s another aspect of this story. Shane was not vegan and he ate almost exclusively fast food, I’m not here to food shame, but he was gaining weight and telling Sarma that it was intentional and meant to disgust her, and it was another test to ensure she could prove herself worthy. So clearly, at the very least, this is an abnormal, dysfunctional, and controlling relationship.
So all this is going on behind the scenes, Sarma is withdrawing from friends and family and they are concerned, and in the meantime Anthony starts showing up at the restaurant WAY more. Employees are noticing that money is going missing and being transferred to places that they know Anthony is staying. Sarma and Anthony also start traveling together more - they take a big European vacation, going from town to town so Anthony can gamble, and posting pictures of their travels on Instagram. Meanwhile, back at Pure Food & Wine… employees stop getting paid. They miss one cheque, and Sarma explains that they are switching to monthly pay, and then the time to get paid comes around again and Sarma says they are not getting paid again… We’ll come back to this.
Okay, crazy layer #100. Sarma wasn’t the only person who was being manipulated at this time. Anthony was a 2x/day regular at this bar and would talk to the bartender, Nazim, and he convinced him that he could make him super successful in the restaurant business, and so Nazim invested $35,000 directly to Anthony, which of course, was not invested and instead was probably gambled away. I’m jumping the timeline a little bit, but Anthony was also in contact with Sarma’s mother, who owns an apple orchard in New York (so cute). Anthony had basically cut Sarma off from contacting her family - they didn’t really know what was going on with her at this point. And so Anthony would talk with Sarma’s mom and say that he’s worried about Sarma, she’s depressed, she’s sick, and he needs money to get her help and over time, he received $450,000 from Sarma’s sweet mom. Unbelievable.
Anthony had Sarma in a coercive control headlock. She was living a nightmare, slowly being bled of all her money by her husband/con artist and she ended up transferring 1.7 million dollars from 2012–2014 to Anthony, who was basically just living at casinos and playing slot machines for hours on end.
B: Ok, the only thing worse than being addicted to gambling, is being married to someone who is addicted to gambing.
Next up in the wild series of cosmic endurance tests that Anthony told Sarma she had to perform, he sent her to Rome and put her up at a hotel in a weird part of town and told her that this was another test, that the mysterious group didn’t think she could handle it. But actually, he likely just wanted her out of town. So while Sarma is in Rome, Anthony holds a meeting with the employees and tells them that he is BUYING the restaurant to get out from under the main investor, Jeff Chodorow. After the meeting, the employees felt super unsettled and they just didn’t trust this guy. While Sarma is in Rome, Anthony gets her to wire him another $100,000 and she does … but this leaves her without enough money to pay her employees.
She got someone to loan her $100,000 and she was able to pay her employees. This brings up an interesting point - and one that makes me sort of question Sarma’s intent. Because she’s consistently sending Anthony money from restaurant accounts, and at the same, replenishing those accounts with investor money. So she’s going to investors and people believe in her, so thay are reinvesting their money in Pure Food & Wine.
Pure Food & Wine was actually temporarily shut down at one point, and she needed $844,000 to reopen and pay the landlord a bunch of back rent and pay her employees, so she successfully convinced investors to give her another $850,000. After all, the investors knew that the restaurant was successful, what they didn’t know was that most of the money was going straight to Anthony. So the restaurant reopens this time, she secured enough money, however, the good times don’t last. Eventually, employees are missing paycheques again - one source said 98 employees were left without pay. There were entire families that worked there, mothers and daughters, fathers, busboys that work their butts off - all of these hardworking, loyal employees were out of a paycheck for a job that they had been working the entire time Sarma was away in Eurpoe. And so, the employees went on strike and the restaurant was closed again.
At this point, this is where I finally started to be like… how innocent is Sarma? She has been going to investors trying to get more and more money for this business that she is sending to her husband.
B: It’s tricky - on one side I see a woman who is clearly in a coercive and abusive relationship, and on the other side I see a woman who is taking advantage of people using her own persuasion and power. I think it really all comes down to intent. Like was she supporting her husband because she was legitimately fearful of what would happen if she didn’t? Or because she thought it would lead to a “get-rich-quick” scheme - despite Anthony’s brutal gambling skills? I feel like they didn’t really do a good job at explaining why she did what she did in the documentary. And I wish that they had brought in a criminal psychologist or something…because I’m still on the fence.
Okay - let’s wrap this up.
Sarma and Anthony end up going on the run. Sarma says that Anthony was just like “we’re going to leave New York for a while” and there was no clear plan or discussion, and Sarma claims that she didn’t actually consider them “on they run” during this time. But yet, she was using a bandaid to cover her trademark One Lucky Duck tattoo and also using a fake name, Emma. They ended up going from casino town to casino town and living in Las Vegas for months. Anthony gambled on slot machines and Sarma spent most of her time in the hotel room. Sarma and Anthony had separate rooms because she was physically repulsed by him at this point - there were some weird, sex-related cosmic endurance tests during this time that involved blindfolds and Anthony would order Sarma around - something about him needing her energy - I don’t know. Honestly, I watched the documseries, took detailed notes, read multiple articles, and I still don’t fully understand what exactly Sarma believed - Who did she think the mysterious group was? Did she ACTUALLY think she could be immortal or her dog could be immortal? I just can’t wrap my head around giving someone so much money based on a mysterious and completely implausible story.
B: Love can make you do some pretty stupid things. And there has been some research done on the criminality of women in the context of abuse…and it’s complicated. But basically, women will sometimes commit crime with an abusive partner to avoid their own victimization. So they may commit a crime when in the relationship, possibly for the relationship, but are also victims of crime themselves. There is a term for this influence that a partner has on crime - and the term has slipped my mind - but it has been used to describe some crime duos like Bonnie and Clyde and Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka. So who knows what she believed…but would she have committed these crimes without Anthony? - Likely not.
And something I find weird but fascinating is that a lot of their interactions in the hotel room were filmed and it seems like it’s Anthony doing the filming. I don’t know why he would document this because it’s clear that Sarma is deeply depressed while they are on the run, she’s not eating properly, she’s always in bed, and Anthony is always telling her to stop crying, pull it together, etc.
Anthony and Sarma were on the road for 10 months, living out of hotels, when he convinces her to ask one more person for money - he says he needs $60,000 - and I honestly can’t believe it but somehow she does it. I truly don’t understand how she does this because I feel like I’m in debt if my friend buys me a coffee - I like can’t wait to pay them back with another coffee. But she gets a friend of her to give her $60,000 and so they go to New York for just one day and she meets this friend, gets the money, and they leave again and head to Tennessee. There, they stayed in Fairfield Inn & Suites in a town called Sevierville for 40 nights.
All this time, no one had actually pressed charges yet. They were on the run because they were avoiding reality, but not from any criminal charges, until one of the investors - Asparagus Trading Corporation launches a lawsuit for $280,000 claiming that Sarma drained from Restaurant accounts inappropriately. The Tennessee police force was involved in the search for Anthony and Sarma, and they found them pretty quickly thanks to an order for domino’s pizza with a side of chicken wings, placed by Anthony Strangis using his real name. Anthony was arrested at the Domino’s without incident, and when the cops went to the hotel to arrest Sarma, she seemed relieved and started crying, and her biggest concern was what was going to happen to her dog Leon. One of the friends that she had made at the chipotle across the street ended up coming and taking the dog for her, and then her father came and picked Leon up - so Leon is safe and sound! He is still thriving on Instagram @oneluckyrescuedog and looking like a very handsome good boy.
B: He is definitely worth a follow.
Sarma was in the Teneessee jail for about 10 days, then sent to New York’s Riker’s Island and this is where reality started to set in - there was no mysterious group, there was no secret job, there was no immortal life for her and her dog, and most importantly, there was no money coming from Anthony. Sarma’s dad paid her $300,000 bail, but nobody bailed Anthony out of prison.
In the end, what were Anthony and Sarma charged with? Sarma and Anthony faced charges of second-degree grand larceny, second-degree criminal tax fraud, and first-degree scheme to defraud. Both took plea deals - Sarma served four months in Rikers Island and was released in October 2017 with an additional five years probation. During the trial, Sarma changed lawyers part way through. There are some opinions out there that this change of lawyers - from Sheila Tendy to Jeffrey Lictmen - may have hurt her case. The previous lawyer, Sheila Tendy, had allegedly been working with NYPD Special Victims Unit in efforts to investigate whether Strangis committed sex crimes against Melngailis, but once the switch in lawyers happened, that aspect was dropped. Also, Sarma was also allegedly hooking up with Lictment. Important? I don't think so, but just another element to this crazy, confusing story.
Anthony Strangis spent a year behind bars between May 2016 and May 2017; he was also sentenced to five years of probation. He did not have to seek mental health help, and possibly the worst part, is that he did not face any sort of charges for scamming Sarma’s mother. (https://www.newsweek.com/sarma-melngailis-bad-vegan-netflix-fame-fraud-fugitives-1688612)
If you are filled with conflicted feelings about Sarma right now, I feel you. I like her a lot and I think she was definitely a victim, but I just think that at some point, the line between victim and accomplice becomes a bit blurry.
Also, Sarma has a new blog post up with her thoughts and feelings about the Netflix doc that I encourage you to read. She thinks aspects were well-represented, but others are misleading. This is a quote from her post: While early tabloids got the first word and a lot of that narrative has stuck, I didn’t “flee” in 2015 as those accounts stated, nor was I “on the lam,” at least not to my knowledge. I didn’t leave voluntarily. I didn’t know what funds Anthony had at the time, and I no longer had access to my electronic devices and email/text accounts. I can already hear the troll chorus of Yeah right! but most of what I say is verifiable. It also feels important to point out that of the money I’d raised at the end, over 90% went to re-open the restaurant and make payments. The idea that I would do all of that only to then run away with a man I hated and feared makes no sense. I didn’t want to marry him, and that part of the story was inaccurately condensed. Also, the ending of Bad Vegan is disturbingly misleading; I am not in touch with Anthony Strangis and I made those recordings at a much earlier time, deliberately, for a specific reason.
& that is the wild, mind blowing, and confusing story of Pure Food & Wine, Sarma Melngailis, and Anthony Strangis.