Posted on: March 28, 2022, 11:44h.
Last updated on: March 28, 2022, 11:44h.
Netflix has done it again, the streaming giant’s latest true crime documentary “Bad Vegan” trending on social media for presenting a most outrageous and seemingly unbelievable story. But this tale involving high-stakes gambling is based on truth.
“Bad Vegan: Fame. Fraud. Fugitives” documents the rise and fall of vegan restaurateur and celebrity chef Sarma Melngalis, who was best known for being the proprietor of New York City’s Pure Food and Wine. The eatery, which was located near Union Square at 54 Irving Place, was a vegan and raw foods concept that was a favorite among celebrities.
For those planning to watch “Bad Vegas,” we suggest that you stop reading now, as spoilers are contained below.
Melngalis’ demise began soon after the Latvia-born US citizen initiated a relationship with one of her most famous client’s Twitter followers. In 2011, she took a liking to a man posing on Twitter under the name Shane Fox.
Actor Alec Baldwin repeatedly interacted with Fox on the social media platform. Melngalis, a believer in supernatural powers and some sort of higher calling for her life, believed she was destined to be partnered with the mysterious Fox, who is later revealed to be a serial conman.
Over the next several years — Fox, who is eventually identified as Anthony Strangis — manages to drain Melngalis’ personal and business finances.
Theft Funded Gambling
The Netflix doc chronicles how Strangis — through deception and force — stole millions of dollars from Melngalis and investors behind the restaurant. Much of the money went towards funding Strangis’ excessive gambling habit.
Strangis gambled a substantial portion of the ill-gotten finances at Foxwoods Resort Casino and Mohegan Sun in Connecticut. The Netflix program reveals that Strangis lost at least $1 million gambling at Foxwoods and another $200,000 at Mohegan Sun.
Authorities concluded that Strangis swindled as much as $2 million from Melngalis and others. The two were eventually charged by the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office with various allegations including stiffing employees, duping investors, and going on the lam once their scheme was uncovered.
Melngalis maintained that she was a victim throughout the case. But she eventually pleaded guilty in May of 2017 to stealing from investors and tax fraud. She was sentenced to four months in prison and five years of probation.
Melngalis filed for divorce from Strangis in May of 2018. For his role in the crime, Strangis was sentenced to one year in prison and five years’ probation.
Melngalis largely did what Strangis said, according to her account on “Bad Vegan.” And when Sturgis felt his illicit conspiracy was coming to an end and decided to go on the run with Sarma in tow, his planning typically included destinations with casinos.
If I ever asked him where we were going, I would get some vague answer. Knowing what I know now, of course we were going from any place that had a casino to another place that had a casino,” Melngalis says in the Netflix documentary.
Melngalis and Strangis eventually made their way to Las Vegas. They stayed on the Strip at Harrah’s for months before fleeing town for Tennessee in late 2015. The couple was eventually arrested in Pigeon Forge, a popular mountain vacation town in the eastern part of Tennessee.