Move over Tinder Swindler! Netflix’s latest scammer documentary, Bad Vegan, arrived on Netflix on 16 March and has already cemented it’s place in the top 10. If like us, you have breezed through all the episodes of this frankly unbelievable story, you're probably wondering: what happened next to the fugitive couple at the centre of the story? Here's what you need to know about the unlikely stars of Netflix's latest true crime obsession.
What is Bad Vegan about?
The four-part true crime series explores the story of how Sarma Melngailis - the restaurant extraordinaire behind Pure Food and Wine – went from a star on the rise in vegan cuisine, to a wanted woman. She was famously known as 'The Vegan Fugitive'.
The series details how Sarma was initially scammed after meeting a man named Shane Fox (real name Anthony Strangis) on Twitter in 2011. According to Vanity Fair, Sarma was quickly taken in by him and she drained her restaurant’s funds to send to him. Sarma alleged he manipulated her into believing he could make her and her beloved pitbull immortal, get access to unlimited resources and demanded that she wire him huge sums of money as a test of her trust.
A few years later, the couple actually got married and went on the run, after stealing nearly $2m (£1.5m) from the restaurant, investors and staff. They spent the money on everything from overseas hotels to designer watches. They were eventually found hiding in a motel after Anthony made the grave mistake of ordering a pizza to their room under his real name.
After the pair were arrested, they were taken to Rikers Island jail in New York. Between the two of them they faced charges including second-degree grand larceny, second-degree criminal tax fraud, and first-degree scheme to defraud. They each faced up to 15 years in prison and both took plea deals.
Who is Sarma Melngailis?
Once upon a time, Sarma had New York’s food industry at her feet. Her successful raw food restaurant was favoured by a long list of celebrity clientele, from Tom Brady to Alec Baldwin. She followed up her restaurant, Pure Food and Wine, with takeaway and juice bar One Lucky Duck. She was looking towards a string of more successful ventures and domination within the food industry. However, the 'Queen of vegan's' life was quickly turned on its head when she became romantically involved with Anthony.
Sarma pleaded guilty in May 2017 to grand larceny, criminal tax fraud, and a scheme to defraud. She served four months at Rikers and was bailed out after her father paid the $300,000 (£230,000).
What happened to Sarma Melngalis?
The documentary misses out a juicy detail in her story. In 2019 it was revealed that she had an affair with her defence attorney, Jeffrey Litchman who was married. An exposé piece in the New York Post detailed their romantic relationship. The Post were provided with hundreds of steamy text messages between the two including one from Jeffrey reading, 'It was crazy during the plea, I was kind of swooning over you.'
After her release, Sarma found the events hard to process, 'Imagine suddenly realising, My dog isn’t going to live forever,' she told Vanity Fair, 'I’m not eternally safe, all my dreams and visions that he promised me he’d make happen are not happening, and this colossal mess isn’t all just going to be undone, like he always said it would be. It’s like waking up into a nightmare.'
The team behind the documentary suggest that she's getting her life back on track. Executive producer Ryann Fraser told Entertainment Weekly, 'She's working on a number of different things, but I think getting things back together maybe.' Bad Vegan's director Chris Smith also told the outlet, 'I'm secretly hoping she opens a restaurant again.'
It seems she has not given up hope on opening another restaurant either. In an interview with the New York Post in January 2019, Melnagilis said, 'If there was some magical opportunity to open the same restaurant in the same place, I would do it in a heartbeat … I think New York would take me back.' She also revealed that she'd reached out to former customer Alec Baldwin but never heard back.
Does Sarma Melngalis have social media?
Yes, she can be found on Twitter and Instagram. In her Twitter bio, she describes herself as 'In mourning over @purefoodandwine + @oneluckyduck. Rikers alum. It's a long story. Writing it now.' We suspect a book is on the way...
Sarma also has a blog, and in an entry dated January 2018, she explains that everything that happened still haunts her. She wrote, 'My life’s work and the hard work of so many good people is gone. So many people I care about were hurt financially and otherwise, I’m humiliated, and still somewhat confused, along with sad, angry and more. The debts for which I’m responsible are so big they feel surreal.'
Who is Anthony Strangis?
I think we can all agree, this guy gives Simon Leviev a real run for his money. Before meeting Sarma he was previously in jail for fraudulent activity and grand theft.
After being arrested alongside his wife in 2016, he was left in prison for a year awaiting trial because he could not afford bail. He was later sentenced to 5 years probation after he pleaded guilty to charges grand larceny, criminal tax fraud and scheming to defraud. In total he only served a year on remand in Rikers after his intial arrest. Not much is known about Anthony's current whereabouts but we do know the pair are still in contact - he reportedly told Sarma that he's not a fan of the Netflix documentary.
Are Sarma Melngalis and Anthony Strangis still married?
It appears not. In May 2018, it was reported that Sarma was divorcing her estranged husband.
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