Hot on the heels of Inventing Anna and The Tinder SwindlerNetflix has released yet another scam-related series, this time focusing on the true crime story of Sarma Melngailis.
Bad Vegan: Hunger. Fraud. Fugitives is a four-part docuseries that focuses on Melngailis’ fall from grace. She was once a celebrity restaurateur, known as the “queen of vegan cuisine”, but ended up becoming a wanted fugitive with her husband di lei, Anthony Strangis.
The strange story involves Strangis reportedly using “cult-like techniques” to manipulate Melngailis into giving him more than US $ 1.2 million over a period of around three years.
According to the documentary, he claimed to be a “non-human” that had superpowers and promised to make Melngailis and her dog, Leon, immortal.
Here is everything you need to know about Sarma Melngailis, Anthony Strangis, and the bizarre story behind Bad Vegan.
Who is Sarma Melngailis?
Sarma Melngailis, 49, is a former restaurateur who ran a high end raw vegan restaurant in New York City between 2004 and 2015.
She was born in Newton, Massachusetts, and held a business degree from the prestigious Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Melngailis moved to New York to work in investment firms before deciding to change her career and enrolling in culinary school.
She graduated from the International Culinary Center, previously known as the French Culinary Institute, and met chef Matthew Kenney, who became her business partner and boyfriend.
The pair opened Pure Food and Wine, the city’s first upscale raw vegan restaurant. It was popular among celebrities including Alec Baldwin – who is said to have met his wife Hilaria Baldwin there – Alicia Silverstone, Owen Wilson, and others.
After Melngailis broke up with Kenney, both personally and professionally, she kept the restaurant and took on a debt of around US $ 2 million. According to Vanity Fairshe wrote on her blog that she was “on the verge of a nervous breakdown” as she struggled to repay the debt.
It was around this time that she adopted a pit bull from a shelter in Brooklyn, who she named Leon, and became very attached to him.
In 2011, she met Anthony Strangis through Twitter, as a mutual follower of Alec Baldwin. They met in person for the first time in November that year, and are believed to have married around December 2012.
Who is Anthony Strangis?
Anthony Strangis is also from Massachusetts and was born on 10 September 1972. According to Bad Veganhe also went by the name Shane Fox, which he used on Twitter to make contact with Melngailis.
Strangis was sentenced to five years’ probation after he pled guilty to charges of grand larceny, criminal tax fraud and scheming to defraud in 2017. He stole nearly US $ 1 million from investors and employees at Pure Food and Wine through Melngailis.
The documentary shows how Strangis convinced Melngailis that he was connected to mysterious forces and that he had certain “powers”. He promised to make her and Leon immortal, as well as solve her financial problems di lei at the restaurant.
But after he drained the restaurant of funds, leaving Melngailis unable to pay her employees, the pair disappeared and went on the run for nearly a year. They were tracked down to a hotel in Tennessee, where they had been in hiding for 40 days, after Strangis made a Dominos pizza order under his real name di lui.
In total, Strangis served just over a year in prison on remand after he was initially arrested in May 2016.
What happened to Sarma Melngailis?
Melngailis pled guilty to stealing more than US $ 200,000 from an investor and scheming to defraud, as well as criminal tax fraud charges. She was sentenced to nearly four months in jail.
She filed for divorce from Strangis in May 2018.
According to Melngailis’ lawyers, Sheila Tendy and Cesar de Castro, Melngailis was a victim of coercive control.
Tendy told Vanity Fair: “[Strangis] combined the best techniques of cult leaders – abusive partner control, manipulation and con artist – along with the worst tactics of prosperity theology, meaning: When you give me your money, you’ll get 10 times back next week. “
Melngailis tells the documentary that what happened to her was “not well understood within the legal system” in the US.
“Nobody talks about issues related to somebody manipulating your mind,” she said. “You know, I believed these things were, in a sense, reality.”