You might know of true crime perpetrator and so-called Bad Vegan Sarma Melngailis, but you might be short on knowledge about her ex-husband (or is he?) Anthony Strangis, who was also a co-conspirator and fellow convicted criminal in the fraud that sent them both to prison and brought down her raw vegan food empire. While Melngailis takes much of the spotlight in Netflix’s docuseries Bad Vegan: Fame. Fraud. Fugitives., Strangis is just as fascinating a character (and possibly shadier!). He was also central to the bizarre con at the heart of Bad Vegan.
First, while Sarma Melngailis was the face of the one-time high-end raw vegan restaurant Pure Food & Wine in New York City’s Gramercy neighborhood, patronized by the famous likes of Alec Baldwin, Owen Wilson, and Bill Clinton, Strangis was deeply involved with her as a partner and in her business (in all the wrong ways, it seems).
Strangis and Melngailis were on the lam around 2015. They allegedly failed to pay staff and investors and were wanted for fraud and violation of labor law. The couple was eventually found in a Tennessee motel thanks to a decidedly non-vegan Domino’s pizza delivery order. They were accused of stealing aobut $2 million in all, and owed the government $400,000 in taxes. While they faced up to 15 years in prison, both eventually took plea deals. Melngailis eventually became known as the “vegan Bernie Madoff” in some circles.
Here, however, is what you need to know about the truly strange Strangis, his relationship to Melngailis, his involvement in the Bad Vegan saga, and where he is now.
How did Anthony Strangis meet Sarma Melngailis?
There’s less known about Strangis than Melngailis, which makes sense since she was the blonde bombshell largely representing Pure Food & Wine in public and wooing a well-heeled clientele. But behind the scenes was a clearly unhealthy relationship that became entangled in their criminal business dealings.
Believe it or not, one of Pure’s celebrity clients (and a friend of Melngailis) was reportedly key to introducing Strangis to his future wife: Alec Baldwin, along with his wife Hilaria Baldwin, who have said they met at Pure. And it all happened, as these things do these days, on social media.
Strangis started communicating with Melngailis via Twitter in 2011, after Strangis entered the Baldwins’ virtual orbit, according to Melngailis’ team in reporting done by Vanity Fair. (Strangis’s lawyer denies this telling of their origin story. It’s messy.)
Little else is known about the early courtship, but Strangis and Melngailis married in 2016, according to the New York Daily News. He was previously married to Stacy Strangis until 2010. She succinctly told the New York Post that he’s a “sociopath.”
Is Strangis really a ‘sociopath’ who abused Melngailis and stole from her restaurant?
Whether Strangis was the true bad guy in the Bad Vegan scandal is up to interpretation. He’s widely accused of funneling money from Pure to fuel his gambling addiction, though Melngailis refutes this particular narrative to explain their rampant stealing.
Yet through her lawyers, she has shifted blame onto her former partner. Her attorney Jeffrey Lichtman called Strangis a “complete maniac” who was responsible for the chef’s downfall. “She was badly abused and controlled by a lifelong predator and fraudster,” he said.
And Strangis brought his allegedly maniacal handling to bear on the Pure restaurant business. “There’d be times when I’d come in on a Monday and get a text or call from [Strangis], ‘Don’t deposit the money. You have to meet me here with the money,’” a former Pure operations director told the New York Post. He would meet Strangis at CitiBank, where Strangis had a personal account. The restaurant’s balance, meanwhile, went down to zero.
The Bad Vegan trailer exposes a disturbing recording, in which Strangis and Melngailis seem to be in a heated argument:
“So I’m just supposed to do whatever you say and listen to your instructions,” Melngalis says, not so much asking as stating.
Strangis responds loudly and angrily, and the subject turns, crucially, to finances.
“Yes, you signed onto this! You told me you wanted happily ever after.” He adds, in a quieter but more menacing tone, “If I tell you to take all your money out of the bank and light it on fire… Do it.”
Somehow the idea that he was a “sociopath” pulling strings doesn’t seem so far-fetched, though the fact remains that both Strangis and Melngailis were convicted of stealing from her restaurant.
How did Anthony Strangis get taken down?
There’s more in the relationship hinted at in the trailer for Bad Vegan, from scandal maestro Chris Smith, who produced Tiger King and directed Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened. One subject brings up a conspiracy theory that Strangis was blackmailing his wife, though there’s no real evidence for that right now. It’s even possible she was conning him! Someone in the trailer also points to Strangis promising that he would offer immortality to Melngailis and her pet dog. This is a mystery still very much in need of solving.
But Strangis and Melngailis were definitely caught Domino’s-handed at the $99-a-night Fairfield Inn & Suites in Sevierville, Tennessee, after Strangis placed the delivery order under his own name. (Melngailis maintains that the pizza and its side of wings were meant for Strangis, and she is still strictly vegan.)
Where is Anthony Strangis now?
Strangis and Melngailis both took plea deals and spent time behind bars in the infamous Rikers Island prison system in New York. Strangis spent more time, with over a year before being released with five years of probation by a judge in 2017. So while he isn’t a totally free man, he was able to walk out of court that day—dressed in a red and blue plaid shirt, blue jeans and construction boots, and saying nothing—and into the world. He can even get Domino’s if he’d like.
Are Strangis and Melngailis still together?
The relationship, perhaps unsurprisingly, appears to be over. The disgraced vegan queen filed for an uncontested divorce from Strangis in 2018, after their respective plea deals. But the current legal nature of their marriage and whether the divorce is finalized remains (like so much else with these two) vague.
No word, too, on a new relationship for Strangis. But Melngailis has put him, like the spurned ex-wife before her, in the rearview mirror. And apparently she’s done with marriage in general, too. That whole Bonnie and Clyde experience seems to have left a lasting imprint.
“I have no desire to get married again,” she told the Post. “I have no desire to be in a relationship.” With Strangis or anyone else, presumably especially if they help push her into a fraud scheme and eat dairy-filled fast-food pizza.
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