Raw food world queen Sarma Melngailis claims that she only stole nearly $2 million from her shuttered celebrity hotspot Pure Food and Wine because of her husband Anthony Strangis — saying that he convinced her that he could make her pit bull immortal if she did what he said, according to a piece in Vanity Fair. Melngailis and Strangis were arrested in the spring after a year of running away from unpaid wage lawsuits and theft from investors in the restaurant, allegedly spending it at casinos and luxury watches. It’s a huge fall from grace for Melngailis, who was considered a highly influential and hip raw vegan food chef in the city before she went on the lam.
According to the profile, Melngailis "lost her mind" after dating Strangis, who she met through Twitter and already had a long arrest record. "She really believed that her dog would live forever," a close friend says. Melngailis’s attorneys may argue that he used "coercive control" to convince her to steal money and run, a type of domestic violence where a spouse gets brainwashed. One source tells Vanity Fair that Strangis "resorted to cult-like techniques, including gaslighting, sleep deprivation, and sexual humiliation, to control her." The piece details incidents like Strangis forcing her to give oral sex with a blindfold, accessing her email and bank accounts, and telling her that she had to pass various "cosmic endurance tests" in order to grow her brand.
But Strangis’s lawyers denied all the allegations and claim that a jury would not believe that a person like Melngailis, who had a strong brand and a successful business, would fall for any tricks. "She doesn’t have that history. She was too savvy businesswoman," an attorney for Strangis tells Vanity Fair. Melngailis believing that Strangis had "supernatural powers" to make her dog immortal doesn’t make sense, the attorney adds. "I’ve got 12 people looking at her thinking, You’ll say anything for us to say, ‘Not guilty.’ Do you think we’re stupid?"
Meanwhile, Melngailis claims she wants to pay all her investors and employees back. She faces up to 15 years in prison for her crimes and currently awaits trial in a rental in upper Manhattan with her dog, according to the piece. Strangis hasn’t made bail and is still at Rikers. If nobody takes a plea deal, a trial will start early next year. See the whole Vanity Fair profile here.