Sarma Melngailis rose to fame by touting a healthy vegan lifestyle and as the owner and face of the raw food New York City vegan restaurant, Pure Food and Wine, but it was a non-vegan pizza that brought her crashing down.
After embezzling nearly $2 million from her famous restaurant and its associated businesses, she and her husband Anthony Strangis went on the lam in 2015.
They remained fugitives for ten months until one of them made a Domino’s order from a hotel in Tennessee in May of 2016, the New York Post reported in 2016.
In Netflix’s docuseries “Bad Vegan,” Sevier County Police Department Detective Ray Brown noted that his department received a phone call from law enforcement in New York that someone had used a credit card, connected to the two fugitive at a Fairfield Inn & Suites in Sevierville. The city is just a few miles away from Pigeon Forge, the home of Dolly Parton’s Appalachia-themed park, Dollywood. The pair wound up in the unlikely location after Strangis blew threw hundreds of thousands of dollars in embezzled funds at casinos in Las Vegas and across America.
“We were able to determine that a credit card had been used to purchase a pizza and chicken wings from a Domino’s Pizza that is located in Pigeon Forge,” Brown says in the documentary.
Officers went to the Dominos store, where they were told that the order was made in Strangis’ name. They then went down to the hotel and asked a clerk to tell Strangis that there was an issue with his card.
Strangis, who was staying in a separate room from Melngnailis, came out of his room and was arrested without incident as a result.
As investigators searched the hotel, MeIngailis, whose dog was startled by the sound of officers outside, stuck her head out of her own door. One of the officers recognized her and they approached her. She told them her name was “Emma” but they soon confirmed her real identity. As they arrested her she began to cry with relief, overcome by the months she’d spent on the run.
The officers noted that the couple had adjoining rooms and while MeIngailis’ was clean and tidy, Strangis’ was messy and full of pizza boxes.
The fact that it was a pizza that led to their arrests stunned and amused people, particularly those who knew her for her vegan lifestyle and brand.
“Sarma’s arrest — and subsequent ordering Dominos — calls into question whether she even had a fraction of the commitment the workers had,” Ben Dictor, a lawyer for her ex-employees that she owed thousands in wages to, told the New York Post following the arrest.
Others were annoyed that the tabloids had run so far with the pizza angle.
Joey Repice, who was once the beverage director at Pure Food and Wine, states in “Bad Vegan” that “millions of dollars are like getting blown away in a casino. Like, who cares if she deviated away from her vegan dining?”
MeIngailis has claimed the pizza wasn’t for her.
She served four months at Rikers for grand larceny, criminal tax fraud, and a scheme to defraud. Meanwhile, Strangis received five years of probation for taking nearly one million dollars from the businesses.
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