Troubled raw food restaurateur and former vegan It girl Sarma Melngailis has pleaded guilty to stealing $1 million from her now shuttered hotspot Pure Food and Wine, bringing one of the craziest stories of 2016 to an end. The deal gets Melngailis five years probation following four months behind bars on Rikers Island. She originally faced up to 15 years in jail.
According to Gothamist, Melngailis negotiated a deal yesterday, pleading guilty to grand larceny, tax fraud, and conspiring to defraud.
Melngailis’ plea comes exactly one year after her May 10 arrest in Sevierville, Tennessee, where she and her now-estranged husband Anthony Strangis were hiding after several months on the run from unpaid wage lawsuits. When the couple fled in 2015, they owed investors $844,000, employees $40,000, and had failed to pay $400,000 in sales tax. Prosecutors also accused the couple of spending millions at casinos, hotels, and on other luxury items.
Detectives were able to find the couple after they ordered a pizza from a local Domino's. Allegedly, the pizza was not for Melngailis, who claims to have maintained a strict vegan diet while being a fugitive.
The restaurateur opened Pure Food and Wine in 2004, quickly attracting celebrities like Alec Baldwin and launching it into cult status. She hired Strangis as a manager in 2013, and things quickly turned sour. She later told Vanity Fair in a forgiveness tour profile that Strangis convinced her to steal the money by saying her pit bull Leon was on the brink of immortality. In March, Strangis pleaded guilty to the same charges and awaits a sentencing later this month.
Hours after her hearing, Melngailis posted the following on her Twitter, along with a photo of Leon:
Entirely numb today. No words. Or. Too many I can't say. Grateful to be in the sun a bit longer this spring. ☀️ with Leon. pic.twitter.com/MMOut2AZzF— Sarma Melngailis (@sarma) May 10, 2017
- Raw Vegan Restaurateur-Turned-Fugitive Pleads Guilty To Fleecing Staffers, Investors [Gothamist]
- How Sarma Melngailis, Queen of Vegan Cuisine, Became a Runaway Fugitive [VF]
- Owner of shuttered vegan restaurant Pure Food and Wine gets four months in plea deal for defrauding investors [NYD]
- Raw Food Star Sarma Melngailis Finally Arrested After Disappearing During Wage Lawsuit [ENY]