Successful, entrepreneurial, and beautiful—these are some of the words commonly used to describe Sarma Melngailis—but that was before she was convicted in court for stealing over $1 million.
Now, she’s got a new title: “Vegan Bernie Madoff”, a nod to the vegan restaurants she owned which eventually became funnels through which she defrauded investors and employees.
Indeed, her restaurants—called Lucky Duck and Pure Food & Wine—had become local sensations in Manhattan, attracting even big name celebrities like Alec Baldwin, Woody Harrelson, Chelsea Clinton, and Kyle MacLachlan.
But underneath the elegant dinner plates and animal-friendly facade was a sinister operation that would result in over $1 million stolen from the people who helped make the business thrive.
Sarma’s employees—the hardworking backbone of her eateries—would eventually have $40,000 in wages withheld from them.
Sarma’s investors—the capital that would help the business maintain itself and expand during tough financial times—saw themselves defrauded to the tune of $840,000.
And while immense trust was placed into her, a greedy money-grab was plotting behind what some would call an unsuspecting face:
Other accusations lobbed against Sarma include siphoning an additional $1.6 million into her personal account.
But on Wednesday, the 44-year-old’s disregard for ethics morphed into a guilty plea—though she wasn’t alone.
Standing by her side was her estranged husband Anthony Strangis, who she hired as a manger in 2013 and was allegedly involved in most of Sarma’s schemes.
According to the Daily Mail:
“Melngailis and Strangis took money from investors, didn’t pay $400,000 in taxes and spent more than $2million at Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun Casinos, prosecutors say.
“They also dropped $80,000 on pricey watches and $70,000 on trips to Europe and $10,000 in Uber rides, according to an indictment.
“A year after they disappeared, the pair were arrested in Sevierville, Tennessee, in May 2015. They had been hiding out, but were busted after they ordered a pizza from Dominos.”
Despite pleading guilty, it’s hard to believe Sarma feels any remorse, given that challenging the criminal charges by taking her case to trial could have landed her 15 years in prison for grand larceny.
Sarma has been active on her Twitter profile, even after the criminal charges, including one tweet that seems to indicate she knew her own fate:
I want as much of both of these as I can get before I go away. pic.twitter.com/WTR0kvBOC7
— Sarma Melngailis (@sarma) May 13, 2017