How Sarma Melngailis, Queen of Vegan Delicacies, Grew to become a Runaway Fugitiv

Emphasis on the puppy. By the time police arrested Sarma Melngailis and
Anthony Strangis on Could 10 of this calendar year on fugitive-from-justice
warrants at a Tennessee hotel, where they’d been holed up for 40 days
and 40 evenings, this is how crazy their relationship experienced develop into: Melngailis,
43, the radiantly blonde poster female for vegan residing, a Manhattan
restaurateur, and a Wharton graduate, suggests she experienced come to
believe—really, seriously believe that—that her pit bull, Leon, was on the
cusp of remaining built immortal. This Lazarus-ian feat, and a lot more, would be
accomplished by her partner, Strangis, 35, a gambler with a prison
previous she’d satisfied on Twitter 5 a long time before.

The two had been accused by the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Workplace of
draining Melngailis’s 12-12 months-outdated raw-vegan restaurant, Pure Foods and
Wine, of approximately $2 million, stiffing workers, duping buyers, heading
on the lam, and spending lavishly on inns, watches, and casinos. Immediately after
they remaining town, in May of 2015, Melngailis went from feminist small business
icon to clickbait—the “Vegan Vixen” and the “vegan Bernie Madoff.”
(Attorneys for Melngailis and the attorney for Strangis deny all
costs.)

It was an awareness-receiving tale mainly because of the tasty reek of
hypocrisy. “She is guilty of carry out unbecoming a vegan,” one of the
jilted buyers, a Boston software package entrepreneur, advised me. It was widely
noted that, just just before the arrest, the few had ordered a Domino’s
pizza. In fact, the non-uncooked, non-vegan cheesy pie (as well as a side of
hen wings) was only for the 300-furthermore-pound Strangis, who positioned the
buy applying his genuine name, consequently main authorities to their hotel, the
Fairfield Inn & Suites Pigeon Forge, just down the street from Dollywood,
in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains. Melngailis, alerted to a
police existence by Leon’s barking whilst she was looking at a book she’d
bought at Goodwill, had been subsisting on vegan bowls from a nearby
Chipotle. She begged the officers to take care of the doggy with treatment. Brooklyn
district legal professional Ken Thompson declared, “They have been last but not least caught and
we intend to now keep them accountable for this outrageous thievery and
fraud.”

It was a critical comedown. Throughout Melngailis’s stint in the Sevier County
Jail, the place she was held for 9 days prior to being transferred to
Rikers, some of her woman cellmates taunted her, asking if it was genuine
that vegans flavor far better. Their nickname for her was Sweet Pussy. But to
former workforce who made use of to phone her Sarmama for turning the office
into a surrogate relatives, and social-media followers who lusted soon after her
vegan-deluxe daily life of restricted attire, biodynamic wines, Television appearances,
and clients these kinds of as Tom Brady and Chelsea Clinton, the unanswered
concerns have been how Melngailis obtained concerned with Strangis and why
she stayed.

“I never know how she got mixed up with Anthony,” Strangis’s personal
stepmother, Ellie Strangis, reported. “A woman like her—what did she see
in Anthony?”

“Sarma dropped her mind,” explained the novelist Porochista Khakpour, a near
pal. “She definitely believed that her puppy would live endlessly.”

A source shut to Melngailis describes a state of affairs in which Strangis
resorted to cult-like tactics, which include gaslighting, snooze
deprivation, and sexual humiliation, to manage her. (Strangis, by means of
his court docket-appointed legal professional, Samuel Karliner, denied all these
allegations but did not elaborate on his denials in responding to 80
inquiries from Vainness Honest.) Potentially if you can understand how a sane,
successful businesswoman will come to feel the insane plan that her doggy
can live forever, every little thing else snaps into focus—how that man or woman
may well be accused of bilking her traders of $844,000, owe her
staff members additional than $40,000 in unpaid wages, financially strip her
restaurant, and now obtain herself awaiting trial, with a prospective
15-calendar year sentence. She experienced assumed all hurt would be magically reversed,
just as Leon’s life span would be extended, according to her camp.

The arrest was a chilly wake-up. Immediately after a court listening to in August, she
spoke in a monotone, as if rising, stunned, from a bunker:
“Everything I worked for, and anything I cared most about, except
Leon, is long gone.”

Melngailis with Leon, N.Y.C., 2011.

By Mark Cuddihee Sr.

Mr. and Mrs. Fox

Melngailis first gained detect when she appeared with her boyfriend, the
chef Matthew Kenney, on the protect of their cookbook, Uncooked Food, Actual
World: 100 Recipes to Get the Glow
, in 2005. The cafe they
established, Pure Foods and Wine, experienced opened a calendar year previously in the floor
floor and extensive again garden of a Gramercy Park city household on Irving
Area. Inside of, the bar scene hosted yoga-modern patrons sipping signature
cocktails, like the Learn Cleanse Tini (organic and natural sake with lemon juice,
maple syrup, and cayenne pepper in a martini glass rimmed with crystal
day sugar). In the yard, lit by candle lights, the likes of Anne
Hathaway, Stevie Surprise, and Rooney Mara could be found gracefully
masticating these types of choices as cauliflower couscous with pickled Persian
cucumbers and cultured tree-nut cheeses. On heat evenings, it felt as
privileged a put to be as gated Gramercy Park itself. It was
rewarding, also, generally serving a lot more than 200 handles on a night time and, with
linked organizations, yielding revenues of about $7 million and revenue
of about $500,000 each year, a previous manager stated.

Melngailis, often sitting down at a corner desk in the garden, more
often participating in the position of gracious host all around the bar even even though little
converse exhausted her, was at the centre of it all. Back again at Newton North
High University, outdoors Boston, from which she graduated in 1990, she’d experienced
a blue Mohawk. Taciturn in person, she beloved a guide called Bash of A person:
The Loners’ Manifesto
, a treatise on how the quiet types adjust the
globe. But on the cookbook cover, Melngailis, now blonde, did glow.

Right after a personalized and experienced split with Kenney the very same yr the
e-book arrived out—she claimed that the marriage drained her
savings—Melngailis held the cafe, vowing that it would spearhead
a raw-vegan movement. (She also opened three juice bars, known as A single
Blessed Duck, and a brand name of snacks offered in Full Foodstuff marketplaces.) But her
blog site disclosed struggles. In 2007, prompted by an e-mail she experienced acquired
that reported, “Your lifestyle is my aspiration existence!” she wrote, “And so I’m
contemplating, these people would all probably choke on their flaxcrackers if
they understood that not only am I strolling close to frequently experience fully
put in, weary and even on the verge of a nervous breakdown, but that I’m
also carrying a number of hundred thousand bucks of own credit card debt . . .
that I’m complete of burning rage to build this empire . . . with a
residual and from time to time reappearing destructive closet having
condition.”

As a romance with a guy 13 several years her junior was fraying in 2010,
Melngailis achieved Alec Baldwin, at her cafe, and accompanied him to a
staged studying of Moby Dick in the Hamptons. He before long confided in
late-evening conversations how a lot he needed a wife and small children. Her
assistance to the actor was to get a pet. He resisted, but she became
obsessed with the on the internet image of a pink-nosed, brown pit bull named
Quinn at a shelter in Brooklyn. “One night I woke up crying at like
4am,” she wrote in one more weblog entry. “My boyfriend woke up way too and
requested me what was incorrect. I told him, ‘It’s Quinn.’ ”

She adopted him. Heartbroken when the boyfriend left, she experienced her pet,
renaming him Leon. “She was not another person who dated a good deal of persons,”
Baldwin informed me. “She labored at the restaurant, did the publications, went
house, and handed out with her pet dog.”

Just after Baldwin met his foreseeable future wife, Hilaria Thomas, at Pure Meals and
Wine, in 2011, he established up a Twitter account for her. 1 of Hilaria’s
first followers was a clever man with the take care of @DiscipleOfTodd, who’d
by now been interacting with @AlecBaldwin. “At the commencing it seemed
like this pleasurable factor,” Hilaria recalled. “He appeared nice. He utilized to
make us laugh.” Quickly, @Sarma was pursuing this fellow who employed various
humorous names, including Mr. Fox and Mr. LongBottoms.

Mr. Fox appeared to know just what to tweet to gain @Sarma’s coronary heart. On
Oct 28, 2011, Melngailis blew a Twitter kiss to Mr. Fox
(@UKnowUWant_It) for guessing why she named her canine Leon—even however
she’d posted on her simply searchable blog site a year previously that it was
from Léon: The Skilled, the Luc Besson film about a strike male. “I
<3 anyone who guesses. usually i get ‘like, Kings of Leon?’ ”

According to Melngailis’s camp, Mr. Fox was Strangis, perhaps using
Twitter to play six degrees of Alec Baldwin, figuring that somewhere in
the actor’s orbit was someone valuable. (Strangis’s attorney denies that
his client used these Twitter handles or aliases, or that he insinuated
himself into Baldwin’s circle.) If so, the ploy worked. On November 12,
Melngailis tweeted, “Mrs Fox be in love with Mr Fox. Can’t be helped.”

SALAD DAYS
Garden dining at Pure Food and Wine, N.Y.C., 2004.

By Phil Mansfield/The New York Times/Redux.

When Strangis was about three years old and living in a raised ranch
house in Brockton, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston, he pulled a pair
of dice out of his pocket and uttered, “Baby needs a new pair of
shoes.” His mother, Patricia, aghast, knew her husband, John, a local
policeman, gambled. But this? “He was holding Anthony in one arm and
rolling the dice with the other,” she recalled. The couple was married
for seven years, having one child. Around 1984, when she informed John
she was leaving, Patricia said, “he pulled out a gun. First he put it
to my head. He put it in my mouth. He pushed me back in the chair. And
he had the gun pointed at me. Anthony came running out. John pulled up
this ottoman and we sat there three or four hours.” Finally he walked
out, and she called the police. “They called John. He came back and
ripped the phone out of the house.” (The lawyer for Strangis denies his
mother’s version of events.)

As a kid, Strangis would live with both parents. (His mother tried but
failed to secure full custody rights.) In 2004, Strangis, then 23 (he
never graduated from college), was said to be living with his father in
the Orange Acres trailer park, in Sarasota, Florida, when he met Stacy
Avery, a young mother separated from her husband, at a gym. She said
that he came on so strong that she agreed to marry him in Las Vegas a
few months after they met. She was taking birth control, she said, but
Strangis pushed her to stop. Then, after she became pregnant, she
alleges, he pawned her jewelry, telling her he was due to inherit $5
million from an aunt. “He went as far as to take me to Raymond
James”—the financial-advisory firm—“and to say he wants his money
invested in this stock and that stock,” Stacy Strangis said. “One
account was to be for my daughter for her college.” Strangis had moved
in with her (“I had a house he didn’t have a house,” Stacy said,
bitterly), and things got creepier. There was the time at his father’s
trailer when he theatrically tripped over a heating vent. “He lifts the
vent up,” Stacy said, “and it had a grenade in it. He said, ‘They are
out to get me.’ ” She scoffed, pointing out that it was an antique
with no pin and that she knew he had put it there. Even so, she started
questioning her own sanity: “You say, ‘Why am I staying with this guy?
Who is they?’ ” When Stacy fell three months behind on her mortgage in
2005 and all her electronics had been pawned, she said, Strangis took
off for good, leaving a healthy eight-month-old son he has apparently
never visited nor sent a penny to support. (Strangis’s attorney denies
the ex-wife’s allegations.)

According to Strangis’s mother, it’s possible that when her son first
began communicating with Melngailis, in 2011, he was living in a van
with his father near the docks in New Bedford, Massachusetts. She said
that the two, who often quarreled, had been living rootlessly, traveling
together from casino town to casino town. (Strangis’s attorney says his
client was living with a friend.) On July 6, 2012, John Strangis Sr. was
found dead in that van. An obituary said he had “died unexpectedly” at
72, but did not say of what.

When Melngailis and Strangis first met face-to-face, in New York in late
November 2011, a source close to Melngailis said, he was in decent
shape, though not as rugged as he’d appeared online. According to Leo
Candidus, Melngailis’s confidant since high school, she told Strangis,
when they got into bed after a boozy night in the first weeks of their
courtship, that she was in the fertile part of her menstrual cycle. She
thought he would understand this to mean he should not ejaculate inside
her, Candidus said. Instead, he did not pull out. (Strangis’s attorney
denies this account.) Without conferring with him, Melngailis, angry,
had an abortion on January 12, 2012. But soon, the source said, Strangis
was promising to give her enough money to become independent of meddling
investors, help anyone she wanted, and pay off her debts, including
those related to a $500,000 mortgage she says she had taken to bail
Kenney out of a floundering investment in a Maine restaurant property,
and more than $1 million to Jeffrey Chodorow, the original backer of
Pure Food and Wine. By April 2012, according to Melngailis’s camp, none
of this money had materialized. (Strangis’s attorney denies these
promises were made.) By then, she had told Strangis she’d terminated the
pregnancy, and stopped responding to his messages. “I love my dog,”
she tweeted. “Leon will never lie to me.” The breakup didn’t take. A
city of New York marriage license was issued on December 5, 2012.
Melngailis told almost no one about it. “He told me if I was his wife
I’d be more protected,” she said. “It was vague.” (Strangis’s
attorney denies that his client made such promises.)

Trisha Anderson

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