Sarma Melngailis, who has been on the lam for 10 months after allegedly stealing nearly $2 million from her raw vegan restaurant Pure Food and Wine, was arrested along with her husband in Sevierville, Tennessee after a delivery of extremely not-vegan Domino’s pizza revealed their location.
According to the New York Post—which gleefully juxtaposed her downfall from “an Ivy League degree, model looks and a hot vegan restaurant” to “a mug shot, a $350,000 bail and husband Anthony Strangis: an alleged gambling addict with a criminal past and an 11-year-old child he hasn’t seen in over a decade”—the couple allegedly spent over a million company dollars at Connecticut casinos, and owe nearly that much to employees and investors of Pure Food and Wine and One Lucky Duck, Melngailis’s mail order snack business. They also allegedly owe $400,000 in taxes.
84 former Pure and One Lucky Duck employees are collectively owed $40,000 in wages, according to the Post; a lawsuit is ongoing, although the defendant was only recently located. The restaurant—one of New York City’s first raw food spots—was closed last July, after staffers staged multiple walk-outs and protests.
The Post suggests that Anthony Strangis, Melngailis’s husband, played a significant role in her downward spiral; he’s previously been arrested for grand theft and impersonating a police officer, and his ex-wife told the Post he’s a “sociopath” who pretended he’d been a Navy SEAL. According to prosecutors, he was brought on under a fake name as a manager in 2013, at which point funds allegedly began disappearing. His lawyer told the Post that Melngailis was “running the operation,” while Melngailis said that “things were going well when I was single.” The two were reportedly staying in separate bedrooms at the Tennessee hotel where they were found.
“It’s the worst nightmare you can think of,” Melngailis told the Post in an interview at Rikers. “If I had terminal cancer, it would be better than this, because at least [then] I did not cause it.” She told the Post that she was “not in control” of her actions, and that her friends “will tell you this is not me.” She also claimed to “love” her workers—there are a handful of anecdotes from other people in this piece about Melngailis’s generosity towards friends and employees—and promised: “When I come out, I will find something to do and pay it back.”
The Post also cites some evidence of previous erratic behavior on her part:
Her ex-boyfriend Kenney told Page Six in 2005 that Melngailis physically attacked him on multiple occasions.
“She’s thrown stools, grapefruits and phones at me,” the chef said. “She would leave cryptic notes with big kitchen knives stuck into vegetables. She punched me in the head and cut me with her ring.” (Melngailis denied the claims at the time. Kenney declined to speak to The Post for this story.)
Melngailis claims that Strangis made the Dominos order, and that she is still a vegan; Rikers, of course, denied her request for a vegan diet.
The couple has been charged with 24 counts of theft, labor fraud, and tax crime charges, and face up to 15 years in prison.
Image via Sevierville Police Department