Pure Food and Wine Founder Sarma Melngailis Was Arrested in 2016 — What Did She Do?

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Feb. 17 2022, Published 10:45 a.m. ET

TV series dissecting infamous scams are officially in.

Bad Vegan: Fame. Fraud. Fugitives., a four-part docuseries arriving on Netflix on March 16, 2022, revisits the rapid fall of Sarma Melngailis, a New York-based restaurateur behind Pure Food and Wine and juice bar company One Lucky Duck. Nicknamed the "Vegan Vixen" and the "vegan Bernie Madoff," Melngailis was sentenced to three and half months in prison in 2017. What did she do? Where is she now?

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What did 'Bad Vegan' Sarma Melngailis do? Sarma and her then-husband were arrested in May 2016 while ordering a Domino's pizza.

Born in Newton, Mass., in 1972, Melngailis graduated from the University of Pennsylvania before starting work as a financial advisor and later on, a restaurateur. In 2001, she opened her first culinary venture, Commissary, with her then-boyfriend, Matthew Kenney. The place shut down in 2003. Sarma opened Pure Food and Wine, the restaurant often described as New York's first upscale raw and vegan eatery, in 2004. She launched One Lucky Duck, a juice bar company, in 2012. Where did it go wrong?

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Melngailis's most notable venture, Pure Food and Wine, quickly became a hotspot for celebs. Alec Baldwin met his wife, Hilaria Baldwin, at the cult-status restaurant. Owen Wilson, Woody Allen, and Tom Brady were frequently sighted there too.

But Melngailis's success story turned into a cautionary tale when she met Anthony Strangis (aka Shane Fox) in November 2011. "I don't know how she got mixed up with [Strangis]," Strangis's stepmother told Vanity Fair. "A woman like her — what did she see in [Strangis]?"

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Source: YouTube

Melngailis transferred more than $1.6 million from her business to her personal accounts after meeting Strangis.

Jim Switzer, the operations manager of Pure Food and Wine, was fired after Strangis and Melngailis started dating. A new employee, who wasn't trained as an accountant, took over the financial side of the business. The employee apparently had to answer to Strangis's requests, which often involved cash handovers. At least, so holds a rumor.

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During the relationship, Melngailis transferred more than $1.6 million from her business to her personal accounts, according to the National, handing it over to Strangis. Strangis reportedly spent $1.2 million at Connecticut casinos, per Vanity Fair. Strangis appears to have coerced Melngailis into giving him full control over her finances, including the profit generated by her lucrative businesses.

Most accounts appear to agree that the relationship was plagued by more than what appears to be financial abuse. Take, for instance, the myths surrounding Strangis's promises. Apparently, Strangis vowed to make Sarma and her dog Leon immortal.

"Sarma lost her mind,” Porochista Khakpour, Melngailis's close friend, told Vanity Fair. "She really believed that her dog would live forever."

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Melngailis plead guilty to grand larceny, tax fraud, and conspiring to defraud in May 2017.

She was sentenced to three and a half months in prison. She served her sentence at Rikers Island, the same jail where Anna Delvey was held between October 2017 and February 2021.

Check out Sarma's story in Bad Vegan: Fame. Fraud. Fugitives. on Netflix on March 16, 2022.

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