A former New York City restaurant owner and trendy socialite will spend the next three-and-a-half months on Rikers Island after she confessed to stealing a whopping $844,000 from a slew of investors – and then not paying her workers on top of it.
Sarma Melngailis, who rose to prominence in the New York culinary scene back in 2004 alongside then-boyfriend Matthew Kenney by opening Pure Food and Wine, saw her career come to a crashing halt on Wednesday when Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Danny Chun handed down his verdict, the New York Daily News reported.
The sophisticated 44-year-old’s legal troubles stem from a widely-publicized January 2015 walkout that saw her employees at Pure Food and Wine and One Lucky Duck Juice and Takeaway – both immensely popular eateries – simply up and leave the premises. They were protesting Melngailis’s failure to pay a month’s worth of owed wages, which they allege also took place in July 2014.
The restaurants reopened in April 2015 with an almost entirely new staff, with Melngailis blaming expensive ingredients and slim margins for the faux pas. But by July 2015, disgruntled workers organized another walkout and the restaurants closed down for good.
By then, the so-called “Vegan Vixen” had already left town with 35-year-old husband Anthony Strangis, Vanity Fair reported. The fugitive couple was eventually tracked down in May 2016 in Sevierville, Tennessee, where they had been living out of a hotel for nearly two months. They were spotted ordering a pizza from Domino’s.
Melngailis faced charges of grand larceny, criminal tax fraud, scheme to defraud, and violation of labor law, but she accepted a plea deal that saw her only have to admit to stealing over $200,000 from one investor. She will also serve five years on probation and will pay back $1.5 million to the defrauded investors.
Strangis – who reportedly posed as a wealthy businessman to help his wife convince investors of their trustworthiness – was also sentenced on Wednesday to time served, as he had already spent time on Rikers Island. The couple faced up to 15 years in prison for the grand larceny charge alone.