Bad Vegan: Fame. Fraud. Fugitives. (2022) s01e04 Episode Script

Everything Will Be Fine

1 When we left in the spring of 2015, there was a lot of driving and going from place to place.
How long have you worked at this gas station? I'm so good at this I could work at a gas station? Is that what you're saying? I guess I had some awareness that, like, I didn't wanna be identified.
It's not like if I saw a police officer, I would walk the other way.
I just disappeared.
Is that a crime? I don't You know, so I didn't I never had the sense that we were sort of fugitives in hiding.
I think I won ten bucks.
You're scratching feverishly.
How much did you win? I think I won ten dollars.
Ten whole dollars? We should invest it.
Did he ever ask you to cover your tattoo? Yeah.
I didn't wanna be reminded of it or asked about it either, so I was very happy to cover it up.
So I had these boxes of large Band-Aids that, you know, there's this certain size of Band-Aid that perfectly covers it up.
So I just wore those all the time.
He also told me to think of a name to use.
If I met anybody along the way that asked me my name, I would say my name was Emma.
Why was your name Emma? 'Cause it couldn't be Sarma.
If I ever asked him what we were doing, I would just get some vague, bullshit answer.
Knowing what I know now, of course, we were gonna end up going from any place that had a casino to another place that had a casino.
Of course, we ended up in Las Vegas.
Of course, that's where we ended up.
So we were there for months.
He had this way of going to high-stakes slot machines and winning a lot.
One machine after another after another.
So he'd win 6,000.
He'd win 10,000.
He'd win 12,000.
And it was like he was able to make that happen.
So I got very used to that.
The time that we spent in Las Vegas, I was mostly on my own.
I'd never been to Vegas before.
It was frustrating how hard it was to find any remotely healthy food.
I found it really frustrating that there were no bookstores or newsstands.
So I just found it an unpleasant place to be.
I would either stay in my room, sometimes I would watch news, and at the same time I would be playing, like, these games on the iPad.
Or, I would get restless and go walk around.
The seasons were changing, and when I left with Anthony, I had like a bag with a couple of changes of clothes with me.
Now it's wintertime.
Even though we were in Vegas, it was still cold.
So I had to, like, buy a winter coat and jeans and things like that.
Occasionally, we'd go out to dinner or do something together but not very often.
He did try and teach me to play poker, and he thought that I'd be good at it, and that I'd like it.
I don't know what the purpose was.
That was kind of the extent of my participation in gambling.
But I still found that painful because I don't like to lose.
There's this idea that Anthony and Sarma were like Bonnie and Clyde, you know, roaring around the country, staying in cheap motels, knowing that they had stolen money from investors, and so were bankrolled with these hundreds of thousands of dollars.
That is not actually what happened.
My sense is that Anthony doesn't exactly know what to do next.
He realizes that he probably isn't going to be able to make the dog immortal and deliver these promises to Sarma, but he's probably also not clear that there's no more juice to be extracted from this.
And he's kind of waiting around, unclear of what to do.
There was a couple of times where I did sort of crack and freak out.
No, no, no.
God, no, not now! Just leave me alone! You have to get up, get dressed! I want you to come with me.
You have to! - Why? - Because you have to! Why? He knew that if I ever threw a tantrum and started screaming in a hotel room, somebody might come and call the police, and then all of a sudden, game over.
So somehow he always was able to keep me sort of quiet.
Try to stop crying, okay? Sarma, I need you to try to stop crying.
Please, okay? Try to stop crying.
Let's just talk about something else.
To get your mind off it.
Anything you want.
Okay? The door wasn't locked.
I wasn't tied down and restrained.
I could have gotten up and run away.
So it's not very straightforward.
Um, or I guess it was harder to recognize what was really going on at the time.
I didn't like to be in the same room with him overnight.
He would either get two rooms or, like, a suite with a separate space.
Also, it turned into where his own personal smell became repulsive to me because of the whole scenario.
Whatever physical relationship we had was not one that I wanted.
In some sort of like weird, you know, fucked up, like, vampiresque way, he needed some of my energy or something or somehow.
 I don't know.
It was just something really gross.
It started back in New York.
I remember he told me to bring a bottle of wine home from the restaurant, and I didn't know why because he never He didn't drink, or he if he drank, it was He drank very little.
Um, but So he asked me to bring a bottle of wine home from the restaurant that was clearly for me not for him.
He said ahead of time, um, you know, "I have to do something now, and you have to do what I say.
" "And it's not because I want to do it, but I have to do it.
" "And you have to just go with it and do what I say.
" "And you can't resist me.
" As if he had to do this.
This was some part of this process.
So he blindfolded me and then just sort of ordered me around, you know.
You know, and made me do this and that and get on my knees and do And all things that were extraordinarily uncomfortable in that scenario.
And I I think I was crying, and then he apologized.
Whereas he said he wasn't, you know, would never do that again, and Um you know, as if it was something he had had to do for some really bizarre, fucked up reason.
Sarma, please.
Okay? You can't I gotta We gotta get you downstairs and get some coffee in you.
I think he sort of did things that made it seem like he was taking care of me.
He would get me, you know, like a triple-shot soy cappuccino from the Starbucks in the lobby and the little oatmeal.
That's what I wanted to eat for breakfast.
You know, he was just getting me a coffee and oatmeal.
But in that context, it somehow seemed as if he was doing something extremely thoughtful.
Sarma, you have to get up and go to the bank.
You have to at least get up.
I have no phone and no way of calling them.
You can take your phone, but I don't want to take my phone and read all the fucking fucked up shit.
You don't have to read your text messages.
There's not that many of them anyway.
Just get up.
You have to at least get up.
Okay? I'm keeping everyone at bay.
Okay? You gotta at least get up.
I knew he was texting from my phone, because I was like, "I just I can't do this.
I can't.
" "I'm I can't.
I can't do this.
" Come on.
You can't just fucking quit everything.
He was certainly in touch with my mother and in touch with people.
Shane/Anthony would ask for money.
My mother, she would give it to him.
She was trying to help Sarma, and to help get Sarma out of a financial situation, which he described as dire.
My mother was terrified and worried for her daughter.
My mom would go to the end of the earth for Sarma and she did.
He had said, "Oh, she's in a bad way psychologically.
" "Don't call her.
She gets upset.
Call me.
" Anthony probably uh, forbade her from answering it until I threatened to call the police.
My family was getting increasingly concerned, and so, I think he knew that I had to be in contact with them in some way.
So he occasionally would have me speak to somebody, my father, my mother.
Almost like a hostage, he would put me on the phone, like, "I'm alive, I'm okay.
" He told me to not talk about anything, and just tell them that I'm fine, everything's fine, and um Because I didn't know what to say either.
Sarma is a grown woman.
At some point, unless you know otherwise, you have to take her word at face value as we didn't know what was going on.
And so that was painful.
I mean, she's my sister.
I, you know, I consider us close.
I basically went through a bit of a mourning period.
I just felt like, "Oh my God.
My sister is someone that I can't" "I guess I won't be connected with her anymore.
" "She doesn't wanna be connected with us.
" I felt like I was mourning the loss of my sister.
It was like some sort of colossal, somewhat self-imposed state of denial.
At this point, I think it was close to ten months that we were gone.
Sarm, come on.
No crying, okay? You can't quit now, all right? Okay? Come on.
Don't let that fear and that anger get a hold of you.
Why don't you just fucking admit that you're a fucking giant asshole? And you fucking tortured me for fucking four and a half fucking years.
I didn't do any of those things.
I'm sorry if I upset you.
But, like, today is kind of important.
So is tomorrow.
I can't just spend the rest of the day with you screaming and crying.
He had not asked me to do anything in a really long time, but he told me that I had to ask somebody for money.
He would say, "It has to be 60,000 dollars.
" "You have to get that number.
That's the number you have to get.
" So a friend of mine back in New York had agreed to to loan me some money.
So we left Las Vegas and started driving back to New York.
And we had stopped at a rest stop, but he got out of the car.
I came so, so, so close to driving off and leaving him there.
And he left his wallet in the car, which would have left him in a difficult situation.
It was just this moment where I was kind of right at that edge of, you know, "run away, run away", like, "pull the plug, something, do something.
" And then, um, I thought about it.
You know, that we were married, and all of the money came from my company.
All of it was taken.
It was borrowed and whatever in my name, and then I gave it to him.
So, legally, what is he guilty of? Right when I was thinking about that, he got back in the car.
And then we were in the city for, like, one day, which was incredibly strange.
I met with this friend of mine who gave me a bunch of cash.
I didn't go anywhere.
I didn't go near the restaurant.
If he leaves Sarma in New York, um, it's gonna become obvious that, uh, he has scammed her, and he has scammed the mother because he knows what he's done.
So he needs to keep her away from New York and hope somehow, you know, against reason, that this all just sort of goes away somehow.
From there, we somehow ended up leaving again.
That's when we ended up in Tennessee.
It is sort of a classic American story.
They end up at this motel in the middle of the country.
Colorfully, it's near Dollywood.
I feel like the whole time, there was a lot about it that was really surreal, but that it just got even more so at the very end.
This whole area of Pigeon Forge was so bizarre and strange and, like, of another era.
I don't know why we ended up there specifically.
I think the reason they were there is that Anthony didn't know where else to go, and Sarma was just sort of Not only was all of her money gone, but her kind of perspective on life, her reality, was just drained out of her.
Nothing made sense.
So why not that? Why not just be there? But ultimately, where they were was at the end of the road.
We ended up at a hotel on the edge of the town, where we stayed for 40 nights.
He would always kind of assure me like, "Don't worry.
It's all gonna be okay.
" And then I'd be like, "What the fuck? You're sitting in a room playing Call of Duty and making me go buy your disgusting food, and" "I'm here bored out of my mind and wandering around.
" He would give me a couple of hundred dollars at a time, so I had money to buy something to eat or whatever.
There was a Chipotle across the street.
I was going there regularly, and I got to know the people working there.
I made a friend there.
His name was Dustin, and he was just But I didn't tell him anything about who I was.
I told him my name was Emma.
But that was the only person I ever met the whole time we were away that I ever kind of spoke to.
I would kind of sneak out and go hang out with him.
We'd sit around the corner from the Chipotle and sit outside and drink beers and talk.
It was almost like this was a little sort of normal break in her life, but she was worried about Anthony finding out that she had a friend at Chipotle, because Anthony needed to know her entire reality.
And this kind of thing was not, you know, it was understood to be something Anthony would hate.
Anthony would not want her to be friends with Dustin.
I do remember the first time she walked in.
She had Leon with her, and I was kind of like in awe.
We never did anything spectacular.
We'd get a six-pack and hang out and just talk about politics.
I was intrigued by her.
 She was reclusive, but an extrovert at the same time.
I could tell she was kind of hiding something.
She wouldn't lie, but she would kind of like dodged a question and stuff, and I'm a really blunt person.
So I think that's what kind of sparked our relationship because I would call her out on her crap.
And she just felt comfortable with me.
She would just talk.
But then she would look at her watch and go, "I gotta get back.
" She did ask me, "Don't message me unless I message you first.
" I totally did what she asked me to.
After she kind of warmed up to me, she told me what was going on with the guy, Chris, that she was with.
And, um, he was not a good dude, and she was trying to get away from him, that was the gist of it.
Wait, she said his name was what? I can't I want to say Chris.
Uh, that's the name she gave me.
- It wasn't Shane.
- No.
- It wasn't Anthony.
- No.
Meanwhile, there weren't yet any charges filed against them.
What finally happens is that apparently some investors, you know, contact the authorities and say, "You know, this woman's absent.
" You know, "We're out some money.
" "What's going on?" And then a warrant is issued, you know, against Sarma and Anthony.
An investor, or maybe more than one investor who was ripped off, uh, pressed charges.
The level at which this money was, it's a felony.
What was going through your head at this moment? "Oh, shit," you know.
I don't know.
Anthony contacted me from Tennessee.
He said, "Sorry, kid.
" "I think it's over, and the" So, yeah, he apologized.
And I said like, "Good luck and be careful out there.
" "That's it because they want you.
You got a warrant, if you know that.
" And he's like, "Yes, I do know.
" And I was like, "Sooner or later, you're going to be caught.
" What was eerie is Anthony, he came into my room, and he said, "There is gonna be one more gutshot," he said.
Like, there was gonna be one more terrible thing I would have to endure.
We'd received a phone call from an individual from New York that had told us that there was two fugitives in our area that they were looking for.
That's how we became involved in this case.
We were able to determine that a credit card had been used to purchase a pizza and chicken wings from a Domino's Pizza that is located in Pigeon Forge.
I believe they were in this area because this is a hot tourism area.
It's very easy for people to blend in here.
We located the Domino's restaurant where the pizza was ordered.
Spoke to management.
She had told us that they had did indeed deliver a pizza, and they had only delivered one that morning, and it was sent to the Fairfield Inn in Sevierville, Tennessee.
The pizza was actually ordered in his name, Anthony Strangis.
That was the pizza that led us from Domino's to the hotel.
Once we informed the hotel people of exactly what had happened, they seemed very shocked that it had happened.
They didn't seem like they thought they were on the run.
We came up with a ruse.
"Please call him.
Let's get him down here.
" "Act like there's something wrong with the credit card.
" We used the ruse of the credit card that there was a problem with it, while in reality, there was.
I think the last two or three days, possibly the week, had not gone through on the credit card.
So the desk clerk stated they would be more than happy to ask him to come down to discuss payment.
Once he came down, we approached him and took him into custody without incident.
Once he was taken into custody and placed in the back of the cruiser, we received the information for the hotel room number.
I was in my room with Leon, and I was laying on my bed reading a book.
And Leon started barking because there was some kind of commotion in the hallway.
We'd been in the same rooms for the whole time, in adjoining rooms.
It was kind of in the end of the hallway, so it would be weird that anybody would be outside the room.
Forty-five seconds or a minute elapsed.
Three-seventeen opened, and a young lady stuck her head out.
And without hesitation for safety, Detective Brown said, "Ma'am, you need to go back in.
" And when I glanced, just from my peripheral, I knew.
I'd studied that picture in and out, and I knew that that was Sarma.
I said, "I think that's her.
Grab her.
" She wasn't put together very well.
She appeared to be very skinny and frail.
Her picture that we had received was drastically different from the person that we had found.
Once we had made contact with her, we entered the room, and she gave us the fictitious name of Emma Donovan.
I noticed a box of large Band-Aids on the counter in her hotel room.
On her left arm, where reportedly there was a tattoo, she had it covered up by a large Band-Aid.
She took it off without hesitation, and it was the One Lucky Duck.
And we confirmed that she was, in fact, Sarma Melngailis.
To me, she was relieved.
She sat down on the bed and started crying.
The detective in charge said, "It's okay.
It's over now.
" Which, in retrospect, seemed interesting for him to say.
As if he had more of an understanding of what was going on.
We noticed immediately that the rooms were adjoined.
Strangis was in one room.
Sarma was in the other room.
Hers was neat.
His was messy.
Pizza boxes.
Chicken wings.
Clothes in disarray.
They seemed total opposites.
So they brought me downstairs, and Anthony was out there.
And they said, "You can go see your husband and, you know, give him a hug and a kiss.
" I think I looked at him and said, like "Do I have to?" I don't You know, I didn't want to.
Once he saw that she didn't want any part with him, to hug goodbye or give him a kiss, he said to her, "You need to get a lawyer.
" I thought you told the detective a different last name for you - than that right there.
- Yeah.
I When people ask me my name, I'm used to saying Emma.
Huh? When people ask me my name, I'm used to No, you said a different last name than this.
So that was just a completely fabricat Fake name.
I didn't know.
I had no idea what was going on.
Sure, dear.
But this is your real last name, right? - Yeah.
- Okay.
I remember looking out the window in the car.
And like, feeling almost dazed.
I don't know how to describe it.
Just kind of like numb and not really functional.
The Sevierville Police Department arrested two fugitives on the run thanks to a pizza order.
Detectives say Sarma Melngailis was wanted in New York.
She was the owner of a popular vegan restaurant in Manhattan before disappearing last year without paying her staff.
She's facing several lawsuits from them and many felony charges.
I remember waking up one morning, and there was a text message of Sarma and Shane mug shots from The Post.
It was so bizarre.
He looked like the Hamburglar.
It was like classic black and white jumpsuit.
And then to see Sarma, I was so stunned.
When I heard about the wild ride she went on.
She got caught ordering pizza in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, like, you know, I got the popcorn out.
"Let's do this.
Tell me all about it.
" So I was working at my new job, and then we start getting the alerts that she was arrested.
We were like, "She's caught.
" And like, "Oh my God.
" Like, there's no turning back now.
When I heard the feds found them, I was like, "Oh man.
That's serious.
" Like, some serious money embezzlement, you know, going on.
I cannot imagine Sarma ever ending up arrested in a motel eating pizza.
It felt like insanity.
When I heard the story, I was like, "Yeah, sounds like something that Anthony would do.
" And I was like It blew my mind.
I was like, "I can't believe he went such big time.
" A friend of ours was like, "Hey, your girl's in the paper.
" I'm like, "What?" You know? He's like, "Yeah, man.
She's in the paper.
" And you know He took me to the newsstand, and there she was.
I was just happy that she was alive by that point.
You know, because I thought she was gone.
When I heard that Sarma was arrested, I was horrified, um, but I was also relieved and really glad that she was coming back.
As much as Sarma says she didn't like playing that role of, like, Master of Ceremonies at the restaurant and being on those book covers, and that wasn't really her, she hated that mug shot.
There is something about that photo that sort of strips away all of the class, and the idea of who she was.
It was nice knowing that, like, something was gonna come from this.
That, you know, we weren't all cheated out of money and for nothing.
It felt like she had gotten away with it.
I think they did the usual.
They took my stuff.
Then I was put into the sort of initial holding cell.
While I was in that holding cell, the detective came to see me.
I remember I kept asking questions like, "Well, what about my stuff? What about Leon?" He told me that Leon was taken by a woman who was a manager at the hotel.
I felt sick with worry over Leon 'cause they said they would take care of him.
I don't know.
I didn't know what they were gonna do, what was happening to him.
After about two or three days, I didn't hear from her.
She didn't come in Chipotle.
And then I got a phone call that says, "You have a, uh, collect call from an inmate in Sevier County Jail.
" And she came on and says, "Hey, this is Emma.
" And I answered the phone.
I do kind of vaguely remember asking why she was in jail, but she didn't wanna tell me.
She asked me if I could go get Leon, and her stuff that she had at the hotel room she was staying at.
So I picked up Leon, and I had him for about two or three days.
He'd play with me.
So, yeah, he kind of knew me, um, from the interaction with Sarma, but you could tell he was missing his mom.
I was gonna go down there and break her out.
I got on the phone, and I called down there, and I started talking to the detectives.
Like, "What's going on?" "Where's my dog?" You know, "Where is Leon?" "What's happening?" And he was like, "Well.
" "We're sending them back to New York.
" I said, "What about the dog?" "Well, the dog's with some people.
" "No, no, no, no.
Doggy's staying with no rednecks.
" "I'm coming down there to get him.
" They said, "I don't know if that's a good idea.
" I said, "Listen, pal.
" "You ain't got enough people down there to stop me.
I'm coming to get him.
" I started driving right from New York, and I got to Exit 5 on the Jersey Turnpike.
And her father got in touch with me.
He said, "I got him.
He's good.
" I said, "All right.
" So I made a U-turn and came back into New York.
My father had driven out to pick up Leon.
And at that jail, they don't allow in-person visits.
So you just speak to somebody over, you know, it's like a shitty version of FaceTime.
She looked pretty awful.
Almost, like, not recognizable.
To some degree, I think there was a sense of relief because it's over.
What was going through my mind was kind of a confused mess, "How could this be? How could this be?" Somehow he asked me if, like, I had a drug problem.
If this was like a drug-related thing, and Um, I was crying, and I said, "No.
" Of course, I would love to be able to say that, yes, he had, you know, drugged me in some way, or got me to take something that affected my behavior in some significant way.
That would be great if I had if I had at least some kind of excuse like that.
So I was in the jail in Tennessee for ten days total.
I was put into what they called "the dorms," which was where people stayed on a more semi-permanent basis.
Sarma, she was just real quiet and stayed to herself.
You could tell she'd never been in trouble.
 She's just real clean-cut and conservative, and people in there, they're just not that way.
You can for sure tell a difference.
Sarma's very first impression of me was, "Wow, look at that big scary woman.
" Um, and, "Is she gonna try to take my food and my blankets?" But I helped her fix her bed.
Taught her the setup of how everything was about showering times, phone times.
She was just nice.
And it wasn't my first time.
I'd been to jail before.
It would get kind of cold at night, and we were each given, like, one blanket.
So, very often, to stay warm, you'd sort of end up kind of cuddling with somebody.
It was easier to, like, put a blanket down and then share a blanket, and kind of get close to each other just to stay warm.
I'm kind of a mother figure.
I kinda try to teach them the ropes, I guess you'd say.
I kind of took her under my wing a bit.
Just become a real good friend.
I did ask her, "Why did she allow somebody to control her that much?" And she said that you do some weird things when you think you love somebody.
Really early in the morning, they just came in and yelled, "Get up.
You're leaving.
" And then I was put in the back of a police car.
Awkwardly, they then stopped at the men's jail and picked up Anthony.
And we were driven to the airport, and there were marshals there from New York.
There was some sort of weird transfer where they put their handcuffs on us.
And so my wrists were handcuffed to the belt.
Surprisingly, they did allow us to be near each other.
Right away, he seemed to be concerned.
I mean, I guess I wanted some sort of reassurance or something from him.
But we were awkwardly always in front of these marshals, so I didn't really know what to say or what to ask or what to do.
So then we are in the same vehicle, being driven to Rikers, and I remember him saying, "Don't worry.
It's gonna be okay, but I have to get bailed out.
" "I have to get bailed out, and then I can make this all okay.
" "I can make this all okay.
" In fact, this is probably the last time they were ever together.
She probably didn't understand fully that this world that she had been drawn into was really collapsing around her.
I think that's when it started to sink in that Anthony hadn't arranged for some attorneys that were going to come rescue me and whisk me away.
You know, I'm on my own.
And now I have to go face this very strange reality.
When I was in there, I was able to call my sister.
She told me the amount that my mother had given to Anthony.
How much was that? Um, I think it was about 400,000 dollars.
I remember Sarma's reaction when I told her.
Sarma was I could You could just hear how stressed out she was.
My mom and I have, like, on some level, there's like this bond, because everybody's looking at us saying, "How could you have believed him? How could you have done that?" So we were both kind of getting attacked with that same with the same criticisms, being in the same position of not being able to explain it because nobody understands.
So there's sort of a bond in that way.
But then, the sad part is too that I feel like she should be happily retired and super comfortable.
And instead, she's worrying about stuff, and I feel like it's my fault.
It took a while for my father to arrange something to get me bailed out.
I was there for a week, and they got the bill sorted, and then I was released from there.
Anthony's bail was for some reason, I think, set a bit higher than mine.
His was 350,000 and mine was 300,000.
But either way, nobody was coming up with his bail.
So he stayed at Rikers.
During that time I was out on bail, it's not like I had a happy time, living a free and happy life during that year.
It was kind of grueling and terrifying and painful, and I was fighting my case, and um, feeling, you know, wildly humiliated and horrible about everything that happened, and feeling like this whole mess is my fault.
Sarma Melngailis spent her day getting arraigned at Brooklyn Supreme Court, where she faced many of the former employees she's accused of failing to pay.
Initially, the checks started to bounce, and we were suspicious.
We were told lies about switching banks and, and, you know, routing errors.
Investigators tell us Melngailis, the primary owner, stole more than $840,000 from investors.
She asked for money to keep restaurants running and pay the workers.
Melngailis and Strangis allegedly spent two million dollars at Foxwoods Casino, Mohegan Sun, and luxury travel around the world.
Both suspects face a maximum of 15 years behind bars if convicted, and they'll be in front of a judge again in August.
The overall concept was that this is a scheme to defraud.
Defrauding investors in the restaurant, employees.
And she stole money.
That's where the grand larceny comes in because there was an allegation that she had transferred with the intent to steal, transferred funds to herself and then to Strangis.
Some of the charges, you know, was 15 years.
I don't expect that she ever would have really been sentenced to anything like that.
But still, she could have done five years.
She could have done ten years.
I got a call from her lawyer asking if I was willing to testify on her behalf.
I said no.
I I couldn't bring myself to to do it.
I mean, well, you know, I was still in a state of disbelief.
So what was I going to say? Sarma and I got connected.
She reached out to me after the story broke, when she realized that she was looking at jail time, and she thought that me writing the letter would help her with her sentence.
So I wrote the letter.
I wanted to help her as much as I could because I I felt so bad for her.
And I know how it feels to be taken by Anthony.
I know how it feels to love Anthony.
"There were so many lies to remember.
" "I don't want to remember.
The man put me through hell.
" "I came home one day, and there was a screwdriver on the table.
" "I immediately went to my jewelry box, found everything that was left already missing.
" "Anthony and his father broke into the house and stole all my belongings.
" "I didn't call the police.
" "The father said they pawned everything, but would get it back out the next day.
" "The next day, they went missing to Las Vegas.
" "Anthony robbed me and left me broke with an infant.
" "This man is a danger to society.
" Anthony's attorney, of course, denied that there was any coercion in the relationship, denied that his client ever engaged in any kind of gaslighting with Sarma, and denied that he made promises that Leon would live forever.
He could deny all he wants, but we had so much evidence to support that this, of course, happened.
I've certainly had press cases before, but this was bizarre tabloid attention.
I'm at the hearing in Brooklyn, and next to The Post reporter and the Daily News reporter.
And they're taking notes and still presenting her as, like, this, you know, blonde femme fatale who is surely guilty of fleecing her investors.
And I'm thinking, "There's more to the story.
" And they're still reporting she ordered a pizza 'cause if they don't have the pizza, it's not as good a story, so they don't wanna let it go.
There were no indications that she consumed that pizza.
And I know she didn't.
She was a vegan, but when the media outlets started calling me, they were making that a big deal.
To me, what was significant is like, millions of dollars are, like, getting blown away in a casino.
Like, who cares if she deviated off of her vegan diving shit? Who And it I think she claimed like, "Oh, that was for him.
" Who cares about their pizza? Like, what happened to the money? There is this sense of hypocrisy that really, in so many ways, you know, adds to the story.
It's, it's sort of a piece with the Domino's pizza.
She's Somehow vegans present themselves to us as being better than the rest of us.
They don't eat meat.
They don't kill animals.
They don't hurt the environment as much as us.
So the fact that she would become involved in a criminal scheme like this sort of belies who she's presenting to the world.
Even the case being prosecuted in Brooklyn rather than Manhattan, I think there was a, "Oh, let's get this skinny Manhattan bitch.
" You know, "She has to be guilty.
" Anthony sat in Rikers basically for most of a year while the legal process went on.
So, ultimately, when he pled guilty to the charges, he'd almost served all of his time already because he never made bail.
He was just sentenced to that time served plus a little extra, and, you know, given probation for a period of time.
There was no condition that he had to seek mental health assistance, nor was there really any, you know, provision or anything that was put out there to protect the next woman who was going to come along that he was going to scam and play the same game with.
And according to the lawyer representing Sarma's mother, Anthony got about $450,000 out of the mother.
And this is not a crime he's ever been charged with.
The facts surrounding Sarma's mother were not a direct part of the charges in this case, but they were facts that came to as part of the evaluation of what happened and how did it happen.
And that was very sad and very unfortunate.
I would have preferred that somehow a warning label be stuck to this guy for the rest of his life.
"Don't give him any money.
" "Beware of what he's telling you.
" I gave money to Anthony, actually.
I put, whatever it was, a hundred dollars on his phone card, on his prison account, because I wanted to make sure he had money to call me.
And I remember when I went to the, um, office at Rikers to do it, the clerk was like, "He doesn't need a hundred dollars.
" "He got plenty of money.
" I was like, "What?" Everybody involved seemed to think that I would plead guilty as well.
That that was the only thing that made sense.
Um I guess, in part, because a trial would cost an enormous amount of money, um, and certainly wasn't something I would want to go through either.
Before you went into Rikers, you ended up filming.
What was the purpose of that? Um I don't know, you know, what the purpose was.
It was just I think there was sort of the thought that something like this might happen eventually.
And so why not interview me before I go in? Um To sort of get my thoughts about everything beforehand.
Tell me your name and what you do for a living.
My name is Sarma Melngailis.
I don't currently have a job officially or any sort of occupation.
Um And I'm going away to Rikers for three and a half months starting in a week.
Why are you going to Rikers? That's a good question.
Why am I going to Rikers? Or why am I going to jail? What happened is just something that is not well understood within the legal system.
Why didn't I run? Why didn't I leave? Why didn't I call the police? That's the big question.
Nobody talks about issues related to somebody manipulating your mind.
You know, I believed these things were, in a sense, reality.
The other person involved in this with me was in jail for a year while I was fighting my case, and he's out now.
So that, to me, feels weird, that he's out, and I'm going in.
I've somehow gotten myself okay with it, and maybe it's the way that people cope with things, where you sort of hang on to this belief that things happen for a reason.
There will be something on the other side of this where it ultimately makes sense.
I had no trouble with thinking about her being in prison.
I knew that she could handle herself.
And no, no, it gave me no, uh, no worries.
Most of my visits with her were not sad and unpleasant.
I know in one of the visits, we laughed.
Now it feels kind of interesting to me how, like, adaptable human beings are.
I just sort of had this feeling like, "This is happening.
I'm gonna deal with it.
" They knew I was vegan.
And so I kind of like can't help myself.
Any opportunity I get for, like, sort of try to convince somebody.
My last day at Rikers, when I was getting out, there was a guard there.
And I feel like in the 45 minutes I was waiting and chatting with him, I feel like I kind of convinced him that he should eat way less meat.
And I got him.
I feel like he was like, "All right.
I'm gonna do this.
" If you could've done it differently, what would've you done? I would have stuffed that fat bastard in a garbage bag.
Put him in a river.
I know a lot of people wanna hold Sarma accountable for a lot of this, and I'm sure she is for some of it.
I'm sure she's made mistakes, but I think for sure the biggest one was letting Shane, Anthony, into her life.
There's part of me that just believes that she's a victim, but there's a part of me that believes that, you know, that she is responsible for the bad decision-making that she made.
And then there was also this feeling of, "What happened to my friend?" You know, "What happened to Sarma, the person I knew?" You know, I didn't feel like I wanted harm to happen to her, but I definitely wanted her to be held accountable.
She's too smart not to know what was going on, or, you know, what she was doing.
Like, in some, in some little way, she knew what she was doing, and maybe she was just in over her head and couldn't get out of it, you know? But I truly felt like she knew what she was doing.
I spent a lot of time looking into the Patty Hearst crime around this story.
Patty Hearst was the heir to the Hearst fortune.
The kidnapping is February 4th, 1974.
You were how old? I was 19.
You were kidnapped from your Berkeley apartment by the Sudanese Liberation Army.
She robs a bank in Berkeley, California.
And the debate was, "Should Patty Hearst be found guilty of armed robbery?" Because there's a great picture of her on a security camera holding a machine gun in a bank.
So she was there holding up the bank with a gun.
But this was a girl from the utmost privilege, who had been brainwashed by a cult of revolutionaries.
Or was she? Or has she become a real revolutionary? When I read about or hear about other stories where people were Had involvement in some type of cult or other, I I understood that, and, um But I understand also how most people don't understand that because it sounds crazy.
"Well, how, why would you do something crazy like that or horrific?" Um, I wouldn't have killed somebody if Anthony had told me to, by the way, but I understand how it could get to that point.
So it's a very similar kind of question.
If Sarma was brainwashed, should she be found guilty of those things that she did, or shouldn't she? I'm still not sure.
Do you think there is any chance that Sarma married Anthony for his money? No, of course.
I would say yes, very good chance, because her restaurant was, I believe, in desperate shape at that point, and she would do anything to save it.
That is something that could be misinterpreted by somebody who didn't know her and her devotion to the restaurant.
Didn't know the fact that it all fits together, the fact that she didn't want to have children.
So marriage has a different meaning to her.
She represented it to me as basically an arrangement that was done for financial purposes.
And it was not a love relationship.
She never characterized it as a love relationship.
There's always money involved.
She didn't marry him just because she loved him.
No, absolutely not.
She didn't love him.
If she married him, and he paid back her debts, um, that this would be, in a way, a con that she was running on him.
And so why the hell not? Let's take a shot at it.
What if, in fact, Sarma thought she was running a scam on him originally? If that was, you know, the grift, the con that was going on here, and then she realizes, "Uh-oh.
I'm in deeper.
" You could make complete sense of that story.
You could tell that story.
I'll tell you this.
I wouldn't wanna invest money with Sarma, you know? I hope she opens that restaurant again someday, and I'll pay money for that lasagna.
But I'm not going into my 401K to support that dream of hers.
What about the collateral damage? Do you know what that number is? It was roughly six million, and, um It was like one of those laugh and cry moments, because it was just so Like, once it's beyond a certain number, it's like it could be six million, it could be 60, because it's just so big.
I would just be glad for it to exist again.
It's hard to imagine exactly how that would happen.
I'm not in a position where I can ever go ask somebody for investment.
Like, I just can't.
I can't do that.
I can't ever ask anybody for anything ever again.
I don't think she's been disabused of every belief that she held in that cult that she was in that was created by Anthony Strangis.
It would not surprise me if she's still hoping something happens, and Leon never dies.
Do you feel like you've made peace with this whole thing? No.
I think I've deliberately trained myself to be optimistic because I have to.
Hello? Hi, can you hear me? I can hear you, yeah.
I was gonna I almost texted you last week.
You know I miss you.
I do miss you.
Really? That's my response.
You realize you do have to step out of the meat suit and appear on a unicorn.
I know that, and it's already in the works in my mind.
There will be something.
You're gonna shapeshift in front of me? I mean Come on, you know I'm serious! I know you are.
Well, I can still make you laugh, so that's good.
Yeah, no, it's not good.
Yes, it is.
In a long period of time, I've been all over the world, been in different places, and met all sorts of people over a whole lot of years.
I love you.
You're the smartest person that I've ever met, okay? And you're the most beautiful thing.
It fucking pisses me off because you're right.
It was really good hearing your voice.
All right, Sarm.
Good night.
Good night.
Now that I've lost everything to you You say you wanna start something new And it's breakin' my heart You're leavin' Baby, I'm grievin' But if you want to leave Take good care I hope you have a lot of Nice things to wear But then a lot of nice things Turn bad out there Oh, baby, baby, it's a wild world It's hard to get by just upon a smile Oh, baby, baby, it's a wild world I'll always remember you Like a child, girl You know I've seen a lot of What the world can do And it's breakin' my heart in two Because I never wanna see you sad
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